Blaise Pascal

Blaise Pascal (1623 – 1662)


Blaise Pascal (19 June 1623 – 19 August 1662) was a French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and Christian philosopher.

He was a child prodigy who was educated by his father, a tax collector in Rouen.

Pascal's earliest work was in the natural and applied sciences where he made important contributions to the study of fluids, and clarified the concepts of pressure and vacuum by generalising the work of Evangelista Torricelli.

Pascal also wrote in defence of the scientific method.

Pascal was born in Clermont-Ferrand, which is in France's Auvergne region. He lost his mother, Antoinette Begon, at the age of three.

His father, Étienne Pascal (1588–1651), who also had an interest in science and mathematics, was a local judge and member of the "Noblesse de Robe". Pascal had two sisters, the younger Jacqueline and the elder Gilberte.

In 1642, while still a teenager, he started some pioneering work on calculating machines.

After three years of effort and 50 prototypes, he built 20 finished machines (called Pascal's calculators and later Pascalines) over the following 10 years, establishing him as one of the first two inventors of the mechanical calculator.

Following Galileo Galilei and Torricelli, in 1646, he rebutted Aristotle's followers who insisted that nature abhors a vacuum. Pascal's results caused many disputes before being accepted.

In 1646, he and his sister Jacqueline identified with the religious movement within Catholicism known by its detractors as Jansenism. His father died in 1651.

Pascal had poor health, especially after the age of 18, and he died just two months after his 39th birthday.

In 1631, five years after the death of his wife, Étienne Pascal moved with his children to Paris.

Pascal continued to influence mathematics throughout his life. His Traité du triangle arithmétique ("Treatise on the Arithmetical Triangle") of 1653 described a convenient tabular presentation for binomial coefficients, now called Pascal's triangle.

In 1654 he proved Pascal's identity relating the sums of the p-th powers of the first n positive integers for p = 0, 1, 2, …, k.

In 1654, prompted by his friend the Chevalier de Méré, he corresponded with Pierre de Fermat on the subject of gambling problems, and from that collaboration was born the mathematical theory of probabilities.

Pascal's major contribution to the philosophy of mathematics came with his De l'Esprit géométrique ("Of the Geometrical Spirit"), originally written as a preface to a geometry textbook for one of the famous "Petites-Ecoles de Port-Royal" ("Little Schools of Port-Royal").

Pascal's work in the fields of the study of hydrodynamics and hydrostatics centered on the principles of hydraulic fluids.

By 1646, Pascal had learned of Evangelista Torricelli's experimentation with barometers.

On 19 September 1648, after many months of Pascal's friendly but insistent prodding, Florin Périer, husband of Pascal's elder sister Gilberte, was finally able to carry out the fact-finding mission vital to Pascal's theory.

Pascal replicated the experiment in Paris by carrying a barometer up to the top of the bell tower at the church of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie, a height of about 50 metres. The mercury dropped two lines.

In honour of his scientific contributions, the name Pascal has been given to the SI unit of pressure, to a programming language, and Pascal's law (an important principle of hydrostatics), and as mentioned above, Pascal's triangle and Pascal's wager still bear his name.

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