Today’s Google Doodle: Celebrating Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss, ‘The Prince Of Mathematicians’

The famed German mathematician, astronomer, and physicist revolutionized number theory and constructed the heptadecagon.

German mathematician, astronomer and physicist Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777 - 1855).
Hulton Archive / Getty Images

The famed German mathematician, astronomer, and physicist revolutionized number theory and constructed the heptadecagon.

Google is honoring the life of lauded mathematician Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss with a signature Google Doodle issued today, on what would have been Gauss’ 241st birthday.

Known as the “Prince of Mathematics,” Gauss has made critical contributions to the fields of mathematics and science and is even referred to as the “greatest mathematician since antiquity.”

Gauss was born on April 30, 1777, in Brunswick, Germany. A child prodigy, he is fabled for calculating his own date of birth after his mother failed to record it.

According to USA UK News, which cites an article published by Bruce Director in The American Almanac, her only recollection regarding the actual date her first son was born “was that it was a Wednesday, eight days before Ascension Day, which occurs 40 days after Easter Sunday.” Gauss solved the puzzle of his date of birth at the age of 22 “by developing a method for calculating the date of Easter Sunday, for any year, past, present or future,” Director wrote in his article, titled “Mind Over Mathematics: How Gauss Determined The Date of His Birth.”

His early childhood is rife with anecdotal episodes that mirror his advanced mathematical skills, Story of Mathematics reports. For instance, Gauss corrected an error in his father payroll calculations when he was just 3-years-old. By the age of 5, he was regularly looking after his father’s accounts. At the age of 7, he figured out how to add up the numbers from 1 to 100 in a matter of seconds, after having spotted that the sum was actually 50 pairs of numbers, with each pair summing to 101 and a total of 5,050.

Born in a poor, working-class family, Gauss’ intellectual abilities earned him the appreciation of the Duke of Brunswick, who helped him get a higher education at Collegium Carolinum, which he started attending at the age of 15, and later at the prestigious University of Gottingen. It was during this time that Gauss made some of his most significant discoveries, which include several important theorems still used today.

At only 15-years-old, Gauss was the first ever to find a pattern in the occurrence of prime numbers, a problem which had vexed many brilliant minds since ancient times. At the age of 19, he constructed what later became known as the heptadecagon, or a 17-sided polygon, using only a ruler and compass.

Google celebrates this truly remarkable achievement, a major advance in the field since antiquity, by including the famous heptadecagon in today’s Google Doodle.

The heptadecagon was also to be inscribed on Gauss’ tombstone as per his request, Express reports. However, the stonemason declined the demand, motivating his decision on the complex nature of the construction, which would have been too difficult to complete and would have ended up looking like a circle and not a heptadecagon.

Gauss’ work revolutionized number theory, providing the first clear exposition of complex numbers — combinations of real and imaginary numbers, Story of Mathematics explains — and proving what is now known as the Fundamental Theorem of Algebra. His magnum opus, Disquisitiones Arithmeticae, published when Gauss was only 24-years-old, laid the foundations for modern number theory.

But his interests stretched beyond the field of mathematics. According to Mirror, Gauss calculated the orbit of Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt that lies between Mars and Jupiter. He also invented the first electric telegraph and made vital contributions to the theory of electromagnetism. The international unit of magnetic induction is now known as the gauss, in recognition of his achievements.

Gauss died of a heart attack in 1855, after having married twice and having sired five children. As reported by USA UK News, Gauss expressed his wishes that none of his children follow in his footsteps and pursue mathematics or science, for fear that their accomplishments would not match his own and the family name would be weakened. After his death, the eminent mathematician’s brain was preserved to be studied.