Evariste Galois

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Evariste Galois


French Mathematician

Evariste Galois was born on October 25, 1811, in Bourg-la-Reine near Paris during one of France's hectic political periods. His father, Nicholas-Gabriel Galois, an active and well-known citizen, was elected mayor in 1815 during the Hundred Days regime that followed Napoleon's escape from Elba.

In addition to his father's prominent position, his mother, Adelade-Marie Demante, was a member of a distinguished family, all of whom believed strongly in education for both men and women. She personally educated Galois at home until 1823, when she decided to place him in the College Royal de Louis-le-Grand. This proved to be a mistake, as he was left to the mercy of mediocre teachers who lacked knowledge and the ability to inspire.

Fortunately, one of his teachers, Louis Richard, recognized Galois's unusual ability in mathematics and encouraged him to take up a more intensive study of algebra. When Galois was about 16, he embarked on a mathematical journey that would eventually make him world famous as a contributor to the study of higher algebra known as group theory. His "Galois theory" involved the solving of a long-standing group of mathematical puzzles, such as the impossibility of trisecting the angle and squaring the circle.

While Galois continued his brilliant and imaginative studies, his personal life became both disappointing and tragic. Months of work were lost when three papers submitted to mathematicians at the Academy of Sciences were lost or rejected by its reviewers. Galois then made two attempts to enter the Ecole Polytechnique, the leading school of French mathematics. On both occasions he had traumatic encounters with one or more of the oral examiners and was rejected as a future student.

After his second refusal, he suffered another blow when his father, following bitter clashes with politicians in his hometown, committed suicide in 1829. That same year, aware that his career as a professional mathematician was unlikely, Galois turned to the less prestigious Ecole Normale Superieure and devoted much of his time to political activism.

Galois continued his research independently and, in 1830, submitted another paper on algebraic functions to the Academy of Sciences. Again, the material was "lost," this time by Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier (1768-1830).

In this same year, the citizens' revolution sent Charles X into exile and placed Louis-Philippe upon the throne. Galois published a vigorous condemnation of the proceedings and was promptly expelled from the Ecole Normale Superieure. Following this action, he was arrested on two separate occasions for his republican activities and, although he was acquitted the first time, he spent six months behind bars for the second offense.

A cloud of uncertainty continues to shroud the circumstances of Galois's death in Paris on May 31, 1832. There are three possible explanations offered for the cause of the duel that brought about his demise: a quarrel over a woman; challenges by royalists who resented and decried his republican views; or the possibility that an agent provocateur of the French police was the assassin. When French author Alexandre Dumas published his memoirs in 1865, he named Pecheux d'Herbinville as the man who shot Galois.

After years of arguments and procrastination, Galois's manuscripts, with annotations by Joseph Liouville (1809-1882), were finally published in 1846 in the Journal de Mathematiques Pures et Appliquees. In 1870 a lengthy treatment of Galois's theory, Traité des Substitutions, was published by French mathematician Camille Jordan (1838-1922). These subsequent validations made Galois's discoveries accessible to the mathematical community and secured his reputation in the history of mathematics.

On June 13, 1909, Galois was posthumously honored with a plaque at his birthplace in Bourg-la-Reine. Jules Tannery, a French mathematician and brother of Paul Tannery (1843-1904), made an eloquent speech of dedication, which was published the same year in the Bulletin des Sciences Mathematiques.