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Algebra is a branch of mathematics that involves finding of unknown quantities by relating them with known quantities. Francois Viete, a mathematician born in France who lived between 1540-1603 made indispensable contributions to algebra. He is the mathematician who first came up with the idea of using letters to stand for unknown values in mathematical equations (Struik, 1948). Additionally, he is credited for contributing immensely to the establishment of the plus (+) and the minus (-) signs. Owing to the fact that he was wealthy, he ensured that his writings were published and spread throughout Europe for use by other scholars (Struik, 1948).
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Rene Descartes, a French philosopher, scientist and mathematician who lived between 1596-1650 made a notable contribution to algebra. Firstly, he is the mathematician who introduced the Cartesian coordinate system which allows easy expression of geometric shapes in algebraic equations (Desmond, 2006). Using this system, complex problems can now be solved easily by first breaking them to their constituent parts. Through the invention of this system, Descartes was able to invent analytic geometry which bridges algebra and geometry . Descartes is also credited for inventing the rule of signs, a method used to determine the number of positive and negative roots of a polynomial. Finally, Descartes contributed to algebra by inventing a notation which makes use of superscripts to show powers or exponents (Desmond, 2006).
Robert Recorde, a welsh physician and mathematician who lived between 1510-1558 contributed to algebra in many ways. Firstly, he is credited for introducing the equal (=) sign in the year 1557 (Johnson, 1937). He published the first English book on algebra titled "The Grounde of Artes, teachings the worke and practise, of Arithmeticke, both in whole numbers and fractions" in the year 1540. He also published a book titled "The Whetstone of Witte" which discusses how roots are extracted, the work of surd numbers among other things. This is the book which discuses the equal sign and its also the one that he used to introduce algebra into England (Johnson, 1937). This scholar is also credited for making many other mathematical publications.