John Napier

John Napier

Early Life and Education:

John Napier was a very famous mathematician of his time and he was born in 1550 in Edinburgh, Scotland. His father was Sir Archibald Napier. Logarithms and the decimals’ modern notations were introduced by him. He was very bright and he got admitted in the University of St. Andrews only when he was thirteen years old. It is also said that he had probably also studied at some universities in France and Italy etc.

Napier came back to his homeland by 1571 and got married to Elizabeth Stirling the very next year. At the castle of Gartnes, Napier had enough time to explore his interests in the field of religious politics, agriculture and mathematics.

Contributions and Achievements:

A Calvinist was set to drive away Catholicism from Scotland at any cost. There was a scheme named as Spanish Blanks against which Napier revolted with a certain book called A Plaine Discovery of the Whole Revelation of St. John (1594). Napier set up four new kinds of weapons to make the struggle more powerful. The weapons included an artillery piece, a kind of battle vehicle that was covered with plates of metal and had tiny opening for emitting odious smoke and firepower and two kinds of burning mirrors. The vehicle was driven by men inside.

Soon the Catholic or Spanish conquest was over and that led Napier to get back to his work. He promoted the use of common salt and manure for soil improvement in agriculture. In math, he made remarkable discoveries that were accurate and were accepted all over the world. His technique of calculation of log got published in 1614 Mirifici logarithmorum canonis description. The technique was found to be really accurate that his work was translated into different languages and also widely printed. It helped in the trigonometric calculations in astronomy and navigation. His work about the computation of logarithm in 1920 Mirifici logarithmorum canonis constructio was published even after his death.

A copy of Napier’s work of 1614 was sent to a professor of Gresham College, Henry Briggs. Briggs made Napier’s method even easier by setting log of 1 at zero. Napier agreed with it but left the responsibility of setting up the new logarithm table by Briggs’ plan on Briggs. It was published in 1624 and was called table of common logarithms.

For more than twenty years, Napier worked on a very complex that held a great value to physical science. A device named Napier’s rods or bones shows creativeness of his mind in the field of mathematics. Many mathematical functions like multiplication and division could be done mechanically. This device helped in analog computers and slide rules. Rabdologiae; seu Numerationes per Virgulas libri duo is the work published about his work in two volumes in 1617. He passed away the same year on the 4th of April.