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33 Famous Mathematicians And Their Impact

You may not like mathematics, but many of our technological advancements would have been non-existent without it. Mathematical formulas and theories helped lay the foundation for many inventions and scientific breakthroughs. From ancient philosophers to pioneering women, we recognize and honor some of the most famous mathematicians of all time.

33 Famous Mathematicians

1. Thales of Miletus (624 BCE - 545 BCE)

Thales of Miletus
Posthumous portrait of Thales by Wilhelm Meyer on Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain).

Thales is regarded as the first philosopher and mathematician. He was a merchant who frequently traveled to Egypt. Thales used mathematics to solve his everyday problems, such as using geometry to determine how far a ship was out at sea.

We know Thales is used to formulate and organize the five geometric theorems. He also attempted to explain natural phenomena using nature itself rather than ascribing them to gods.

Note: BCE - Before Christ, also known as Before Common Era (BC)

2. Pythagoras (570 BCE - 495 BCE)

Photo by Szilas on Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain).

Pythagoras is the influential mathematician behind the well-known Pythagorean theorem. This theorem is useful in measuring distances, construction, navigation, and so on.

Not much is known about Pythagoras himself as he left no writings. However, he established a secret society called the Divine Brotherhood of Pythagoras. The Pythagoreans believed that numbers were the means to understanding reality.

3. Euclid of Alexandria (325 BCE - 265 BCE)

Euclid of Alexandria
Photo by J. Paul Getty Museum on Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain).

Euclid is most famous for his treatise on the mathematical principles of his time. The book was titled ‘The Elements, and it was used to teach mathematics for about 2000 years. 

Euclid’s five postulates on points, lines, circles, right angles, and parallel lines are taught as facts in modern mathematics. He is best known for developing the Euclidean geometry system.

4. Archimedes (287 BCE - 212 BCE)

Portrait of a Scholar (Archimedes?) by Domenico Fetti (Public Domain).

The most popular story about Archimedes was when he discovered the principle of buoyancy while taking a bath. The ‘eureka,’ as the chanced discovery is called, makes it possible for large ships to stay afloat.

Archimedes is credited with creating a method to calculate the volume of a sphere. He also invented the Archimedes screw, which is still used to raise water from low-lying sources.

5. Eratosthenes (276 BCE - 195 BCE)

Painting of Eratosthenes Teaching in Alexandria (Public Domain).

Eratosthenes was a Greek mathematician respected for his ability to make exact calculations. He is famous for being the first person to calculate the earth’s circumference using states. His result varies just slightly from that of modern astronomers.

Eratosthenes also devised a means of quickly identifying prime numbers. The procedure, known as the sieve of Eratosthenes, is still used in number theory research.

6. Claudius Ptolemy (90 CE - 168 CE)

Claudius Ptolemy
Portrait of Ptolemy by Justus van Gent and Pedro Berruguete (Public Domain).

Ptolemy believed the earth was at the center of the universe. His geocentric theory was the leading idea in astronomy for thousands of years. His most acclaimed book, Almagest, discussed mathematical theories related to the solar system. 

One of his greatest mathematics contributions was the earliest trigonometric function table.

Note: CE - Common Era, also known as Anno Domini (AD) 

7. Hipparchus (190 CE - 120 CE)

Hipparchus is one of those famous mathematicians who excelled in astronomy. He calculated the length of a tropical year, but it was about six and a half minutes, which was too long. He also compiled the earliest catalog of stars.

Hipparchus discovered the precession of the equinoxes and tried to predict solar eclipses. He invented planar trigonometry and may have also created spherical trigonometry.

8. Diophantus of Alexandria (200 CE - 284 CE)

Diophantus is famous for his work with algebraic equations. Sometimes, he's referred to as the “father of algebra”. He authored a series of books containing a collection of algebraic problems called “Arithmetic.” 

He was one of the first mathematicians to use symbolism in algebra, paving the way for mathematical notation.

9. Hypatia (355 CE - 415 CE)

Painting of Hypatia by Julius Kronberg (Public Domain).

Against the norm of her time, Hypatia became one of the first women to study astronomy and mathematics. She studied under her father, Theon, a famous mathematician and director of the Library of Alexandria.

In her lifetime, Hypatia was a dedicated teacher who inspired other female scientists and educators. She also invented the astrolabe for ship navigation and devices for measuring fluid density.

10. Aryabhata (476 CE -550 CE)

Statue depicting Aryabhata (Public Domain).

Aryabhata the Elder is known as the father of Indian mathematics and a renowned astronomer. He wrote two books, Aryabhatiya and the now-lost Aryabhatasiddhanta, which earned him worldwide recognition.

Aryabhata was the first to use the place value system of zero. He calculated the approximate value of pie (π) to 3.1416. That is quite close to the actual value of 3.14159.

11. Leonardo Fibonacci (1170 - 1240 CE)

Leonardo Fibonacci
Statue of Fibonacci (1863) by Giovanni Paganucci licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 (Cropped from original).

Leonardo Fibonacci, also known as Leonardo of Pisa, is one of the most influential mathematicians of all time. He is best known for the famous Fibonacci sequence

Most people don't know that he introduced the Hindu Arabic numeral system to the Western world in 1202. Before then, Europeans used Roman numerals for arithmetic, which wasn't easy for everyone to learn.

12. Rene Descartes (1596 - 1650 CE)

Rene Descartes
Portrait of René Descartes (Public Domain).

Of the famous mathematicians of his time, Rene Descartes was highly respected. He made significant contributions to philosophy, especially in metaphysics. He came up with the famous dictum “Cogito ergo sum”–“I think, therefore I am.”

Descartes laid the foundation for analytical geometry and the Cartesian coordinate system, which is used today to pinpoint locations on maps and GPS.

13. Blaise Pascal (1623 - 1662)

Blaise Pascal
Portrait of Pascal on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 3.0 (Cropped from original).

Pascal was a mathematician, scientist, inventor, theologian, and philosopher. At 16, he published an essay on conics, which was a breakthrough in the emerging field of projective geometry

He also notably invented the first calculating machine called the Pascaline. Pascal laid the foundation for probability theory and proved the existence and nature of the vacuum.

14. Sir Isaac Newton (1643 - 1727)

Sir Isaac Newton
Portrait of Isaac Newton (Public Domain).

Sir Isaac Newton is widely considered to be one of the most influential mathematicians of all time. His most successful publication was the Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. In the book, he introduced the three laws that govern motion and gravity.

Newton is also credited with discovering the nature of white light, independently inventing infinitesimal calculus, and developing the binomial theorem.

15. Gottfried Leibniz (1646 - 1716)

Gottfried Leibniz
Portrait of Gottfried Leibniz by Christoph Bernhard Francke (Public Domain).

German polymath Leibniz was highly accomplished. He published a few books and worked on the binary number system.

Perhaps his most popular feat was inventing differential and integral calculus (a part of Infinitesimal calculus). There was much debate about it, but it was determined that Leibniz developed calculus independently of Sir Isaac Newton.

16. Daniel Bernoulli (1700 - 1782)

Daniel Bernoulli
Portrait of Daniel Bernoulli on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

Daniel Bernoulli came from an established mathematician background. He was brilliant and made his own mark. Bernoulli researched fluid mechanics and properties of vibration and contributed to probability theory.

In 1738, he published Hydrodynamica, in which he put forward the Bernoulli principle. The applications of that principle helped build aircraft, atomizers, and chimneys, as well as measure blood pressure.

17. Leonard Euler (1707 - 1783)

Leonard Euler
Portrait by Jakob Emanuel Handmann (Public Domain).

Euler was one of the founders of pure mathematics and an important mathematician in the eighteenth century. He was a prolific author with numerous contributions to geometry, calculus, mechanics, number theory, and so on.

Euler devised methods for solving issues in observational astronomy and helped establish mathematical education in Russia. Even though he went blind, he worked until the end of his life.

18. Joseph-Louis Lagrange (1736 - 1813)

Joseph-Louis Lagrange
Portrait of Joseph-Louis Lagrange (Public Domain).

Even other famous mathematicians of his time regarded Lagrange as one of the greatest. The self-taught genius devised simpler formulas for Newton’s classical mechanics and Euler's calculus of variations.

His major publication, Mécanique Analytique, became the foundation of analytical mechanics. He also published papers on differential equations, mechanics, probability, and the solar system's stability.

19. Sophie Germain (1776 - 1831)

In Germain’s time, a female mathematician was frowned upon. She self-nurtured her mathematical abilities and later assumed the identity of a runaway male student to study at the Ecole Polytechnique Paris.

Germain solved Fermat's Last Theorem, which was considered unsolvable. She also published “Memoir on the Vibrations of Elastic Plates," which laid the foundations for the modern elasticity theory

20. Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777 - 1855)

Carl Friedrich Gauss
Portrait by Christian Albrecht Jensen (Public Domain).

Carl Friedrich Gauss was a child prodigy with an affinity for mathematics and languages. He was referred to as the Prince of Mathematicians. He proved that a 17-sided polygon could be constructed using just a ruler and compass. Something formerly considered impossible.

Gauss deduced the shape of the Gaussian distribution, commonly called the normal distribution. He also contributed significantly to the theory of functions, planetary astronomy, geometry, etc.

21. Évariste Galois (1811 - 1832)

Évariste Galois
Portrait of Évariste Galois (Public Domain).

Although his short life was full of many unfortunate events, this famous mathematician had an impact. Galois made important contributions to an aspect of abstract algebra, now called group theory.

His posthumously published memoir on the solvability of algebraic equations introduced the Galois theory. The theory helped solve the polynomial equation problem that had stumped mathematicians for years.

22. Ada Lovelace (1815 - 1852)

 Ada Lovelace
Portray of Ada Lovelace by Alfred Edward Chalon on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

Ada Lovelace is considered to be the first computer programmer. The noblewoman, a gifted mathematician, was friends with Charles Babbage. He had asked Lovelace to translate an article about Babbage’s Analytical Engine. 

While translating, Lovelace added her own input. She had discovered that the Engine could be programmed to follow a sequence of commands. She also recognized that the “computer” could do more than just mathematical calculations.

23. George Boole (1815 - 1864) 

George Boole
Photo of George Boole (Public Domain).

This famous mathematician, considered the father of computer science, was primarily self-taught. His contribution to mathematics helped lay the foundation for how digital computer circuits work.

In his book, The Laws of Thought, Boole expressed ideas that gave rise to Boolean logic. His books on calculus, differential equations, and other mathematical concepts were used as textbooks for many years.

24. Georg Cantor (1845 - 1918)

Georg Cantor
Photo of Georg Cantor (Public Domain).

Georg Cantor was a German mathematician. He faced much opposition in his career and suffered from bouts of mental illness. All that did not stop him from making meaningful contributions to the field of mathematics.

Cantor invented set theory, introduced the concept of transfinite numbers, and defined cardinal and ordinal numbers. His works eventually influenced mathematical education in the United States.

25. David Hilbert (1862 - 1943)

David Hilbert was one of the most famous mathematicians of his time. At a conference in 1900, he posed 23 mathematical problems, some of which remain unsolved.

Hilbert's work in integral equations gave rise to functional analysis research. He formulated Hilbert Space, which helped develop quantum mechanics. His memoirs have been critical to the development of mathematical physics. He is also given some credit for proof theory.

26. Emmy Noether (1882 - 1935)

Emmy Noether
Portrait of Emmy Noether (Public Domain).

Noether wasn't initially allowed to enroll at the University of Erlangen because of her gender. When she eventually bagged a Ph.D., no university would hire her for the same reason. 

Despite the discrimination, this famous mathematician went on to discover a fundamental idea in theoretical physics: the Noether theorem. She was also a leading expert in abstract algebra, becoming the mother of modern algebra.

27. Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887 - 1920)

This Indian mathematician was shockingly brilliant, and even more astonishing was that he was self-taught. Regarding mathematical ability, G.H. Hardy ranked Ramanujan at a perfect 100/100.

His grasp of continued fractions was unequaled, and he pioneered discoveries in number theory. Unfortunately, Ramanujan died early at 32. He left behind three notebooks worth of calculations that continue to inspire mathematical work today.

28. John von Neumann (1903 - 1957)

John von Neumann
Bust of John Neuman licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

John von Neumann was a child prodigy who became a famous mathematician by his mid-twenties. His work involved applying mathematics to quantum mechanics, automata theory, and defense planning. He famously worked on the Manhattan Project.

Von Neumann pioneered game theory and offered important contributions to operator theory. He was one of the earliest to develop the concept of digital computers.

29. Alan Turing (1912 - 1954)

Alan Turing
Photo of Alan Turing (Public Domain).

Turing was a famous mathematician who made significant contributions to mathematical biology, cryptanalysis, computer science, artificial intelligence, and many other fields. During the Second World War, Tuning's team built a code-breaking machine to decipher encrypted German intelligence messages. 

Turing conceptualized the earliest digital computers: the Automatic Computing Engine (ACE) and the Turing Machine. The first marketable electronic digital computer used Turing’s programming system.

30. John Forbes Nash (1928 - 2015)

John Forbes Nash
Photo of John Nash by Elke Wetzig on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).

Nash was a famous mathematician who applied mathematics to economic issues. He is the only person to have won the Economic Sciences and Abel prizes. His game theory proposed a mathematical model for optimal outcomes in negotiations. 

Nash's mathematical studies focused on algebraic geometry and partial differential equations. He solved David Hilbert’s 19th problem, and the Nash embedding theorem was described as highly original.

31. Edward Witten (1951- Present)

Edward Witten
Photo of Edward Witten (Public Domain).

Edward Witten is a famous mathematician and physicist whose work has significantly contributed to both fields. In 1990, he won the Fields Medal for his work in string theory. He has also contributed to knot theory, topology, Morse theory, and supersymmetry.

32. Maryam Mirzakhani (1977 - 2017)

Maryam Mirzakhani
Photo of Maryam Mirzakhani on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

Maryam Mirzakhani was the first woman and only Iranian to be awarded the Fields Medal for mathematics. Her work in hyperbolic geometry and Riemann surfaces earned her recognition. 

Mirzakhani contributed incredibly to complex analysis, geometry, topology, and dynamical systems. Unfortunately, she passed away from breast cancer at the age of forty. She remains one of the most famous mathematicians of the 21st century.

33. Terrence Tao (1975 - Present)

Terrence Tao
Portrait of Terence Tao (Public Domain).

Tao is a famous mathematician who won a Fields Medal for his work on partial differential equations, additive number theory, and harmonic analysis. He's also won a couple of other awards for his efforts.

In collaboration with mathematician Ben Green, Tao revealed that the set of prime numbers contains arbitrarily long arithmetic progressions. This was a profound discovery in arithmetic.

Conclusion: Famous Mathematicians

Our list of famous mathematicians is not exhaustive. Many more people have made significant contributions to the field of mathematics we couldn't mention. This doesn't mean we do not value their efforts; we've just run out of space.

Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.

Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.

Fact Checked By:
Isabela Sedano, BEng.

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