Tom Whiteside

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Tom Whiteside
Born(1932-07-23)23 July 1932
Died22 April 2008(2008-04-22) (aged 75)
Awards Koyré Medal (1968)
FBA (1975)
George Sarton Medal (1977) [1]
Scientific career
Thesis Patterns of mathematical thought in the later seventeenth century  (1961)
Doctoral advisor Richard Braithwaite
Michael Hoskin [2]

Derek Thomas Whiteside FBA (23 July 1932 – 22 April 2008 [3] ) was a British historian of mathematics.

Contents

Biography

In 1954 Whiteside graduated from Bristol University with a B.A. having studied French, Latin, mathematics and philosophy. He had spent part of 1952 studying at the Sorbonne. In 1956 he began graduate study with Richard Braithwaite who referred him to Michael Hoskin. In 1959 he submitted the manuscript "Mathematical patterns of thought in the late seventeenth century" to Hoskin who submitted it to Archive for History of Exact Sciences for publication.

Hoskin and Whiteside were joined by Adolf Prag to edit the eight volume Mathematical Papers of Isaac Newton (1967 to 1981). [4] Reviewing first volume of the work, Christoph Scriba wrote, "...must be praised the extraordinary care and conscientiousness of the editor who collected, organized, transcribed and edited the wealth of material in a superb way." [5] According to Carl Boyer, "Historians of science in general, and Newtonian scholars in particular, owe a heavy debt of gratitude to Dr Whiteside for the altogether exemplary manner in which he is making available to us the ample evidence concerning the making of one of the world's three greatest mathematicians." [6] Boyer also notes that "Rene Descartes and two Hollanders, Hudde and van Schooten, are cited more frequently than are Barrow and Wallis", discounting the notion that Isaac Barrow was Newton's teacher. Rosalind Tanner described the beginning of volume one: "the Preface, Editorial Note, General Introduction, and brief Forward to Volume 1, providing in turn the story of the undertaking, the how and why of the presentation, the history of the Newton manuscripts, and the scope of this Volume 1, and each in its way a notable achievement." [7] Tanner also reviewed volume 2 and its concern with Gerhard Kinkhuysen's Dutch textbook on algebra, partially translated into Latin by Nicholas Mercator, and worked on by Newton until the project was abandoned in 1676. [8]

In 1969 Whiteside became Assistant Director of Research in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge University. He also was Senior Research Fellow at Churchill College. He was elected Fellow of the British Academy in 1975 and promoted to Reader at Cambridge the following year. In 1987 he moved to the department of Pure Mathematics, but his health began to fail. In 1992 Cambridge organized a festschrift in his honour: The Investigation of Difficult Things. [4]

Tom and Ruth Whiteside had two children, Simon and Philippa, [9] to whom volume 8 of Mathematical Papers of Isaac Newton was dedicated.

Whiteside retired in 1999 and died 22 April 2008.

Isaac Newton

Whiteside wrote a 19-page non-technical account, Newton the Mathematician. [10] In this essay he describes Newton's mathematical development starting in secondary school. Whiteside says that the most important influence on Newton's mathematical development was Book II of René Descartes's La Géométrie. [11] Book II is devoted to a problem that had been considered and partly solved by Pappus of Alexandria and Apollonius of Perga. Descartes completely solved the problem, inventing new mathematics as needed. The problem is this: Given n lines L, with points P(L) on them, find the locus of points Q, such that the lengths of the line segments QP(C) satisfy certain conditions. For example, if n = 4, given lines a, b, c, and d and a point A on a, B on b, and so on, find the locus of points Q such that the product QA*QB equals the product QC*QD. When the lines are not all parallel, Pappus had shown that the locus of points Q was a conic section. Descartes considered larger n, allowing some lines to be parallel, and he obtained cubic and higher degree curves. He was able to do this by producing the equation that the points of Q satisfy, using the Cartesian coordinate system. The rest of Descartes' Book II is occupied with showing that the cubic curves arise naturally in the study of optics from the Snell-Descartes Law. Newton developed an interest in optics. Newton was inspired to undertake the classification of cubic curves, and he identified 72 of the 78 different species. [12] [13] [14]

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References

  1. Professor Tom Whiteside, 1932-2008, Cambridge University Department of History and Philosophy of Science, archived from the original on 14 July 2009, retrieved 2 May 2009
  2. "Professor Tom Whiteside", The Times, 7 May 2008
  3. Bursill-Hall, Piers (3 May 2008), "Professor D. T. Whiteside: Historian of mathematics whose prodigious work on Newton's papers astonished the scholarly world", The Independent, retrieved 17 July 2008
  4. 1 2 Hoskin, Michael (August 2008), "Derek Thomas Whiteside (1932–2008)", Journal for the History of Astronomy, 39 (136): 402–404, Bibcode:2008JHA....39..402H, doi:10.1177/002182860803900308, S2CID   125923183, archived from the original on 16 July 2011
  5. C. J. Scriba (1968) Review of volume 1: Mathematical Papers of Isaac Newton, MR 0214426
  6. Carl Boyer (1967) Review: Volume 1: Mathematical Papers of Isaac Newton, History of Science 6(1): 97–106
  7. R. C. H. Tanner (1969) Journal of the London Mathematical Society, S1-44(1)
  8. R.C.H. Tanner (1969) Journal of the London Mathematical Society S1-44(1): 669–70
  9. Shapiro, Alan (5 May 2008), "DT Whiteside", The Guardian
  10. Zev Bechler, editor, Contemporary Newtonian Research, pp. 109-127, Studies in the History of Modern Science volume 9, 1982, D. Reidel Publishing Co, Dordrecht, Holland, Boston, USA, London, England.
  11. The Geometry of Rene Descartes (Dover Books on Mathematics) by Rene Descartes, David Eugene Smith and Marcia L. Latham (1 Jun 1954).
  12. Robert Bix, Conics and Cubics, Springer Verlag, p. 128 et seq, 2nd edition, 2006
  13. Fleming, Craig (1 May 2008), "Maths prof from Blackpool slums dies", The Blackpool Gazette
  14. "University offices vacated during the academical year 1998-99". Cambridge University Reporter. 21 September 1999. Retrieved 29 September 2011.