GAUSS 2005
Carl Friedrich Gauss
Gauss Göttingen
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Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777–1855) - his life

C.F. Gauss
Born the son of a street butcher on 30th April 1777 in Brunswick, Carl Friedrich Gauss – who later said of himself that he learnt arithmetic before learning to talk – was, as a child, already astounding his teachers. In a schoolroom crammed with 100 pupils, the teacher set them the task of adding together all the numbers from 1 to 100. The young Carl Friedrich arrived at the correct answer long before his fellow pupils had managed to do so, using 50 pairs of numbers that come to 101 (1 + 100, 2 + 99, 3 + 98 and so forth), and reaching the correct solution by calculating 50 x 101 = 5050. Gauss’ exceptional talent was cultivated by the Duke of Brunswick through scholarships for senior school, university studies in Göttingen from 1795 -1798 and the completion of his doctorate in Helmstedt.

Already having built up a considerable scientific reputation for himself, he was appointed Professor of Astronomy in Göttingen in 1807 at the age of 30, and took up residence in Groner Strasse, together with his wife Johanna and son Joseph. Following the birth of two further children, his wife died an early death in 1809, a grave loss for Gauss. But it was not too long before he found in Minna Waldeck, the daughter of a Göttingen professor, a new partner and mother for his offspring, and she went on to bear him three more children.

Sternwarte 1817

Gauss took little part in the social life of the small university town. He enjoyed observing nature during his frequent walks and made use of the rich source of reading material to be found in the University’s library and  reading room for journals.It was a time of political upheavals and economic crises but also one during which science exercised great fascination. Universities were built, international exchange of ideas played a considerable role and astronomy became a socially topical subject. Wilhelm von Humboldt did his best to attract Gauss to Berlin. But as was the outcome of all efforts to tempt him elsewhere, Gauss decided to remain in Göttingen. Progress was being made on the erection of a new Observatory before the portals of the town. This served Gauss as his place of dwelling and work from 1816 until his death. The fact that living outside the town wall brought definite practical advantages when it came to hygiene can be determined from a remark he made during a cholera epidemic: “Once again, my Observatory is the healthiest place in Göttingen.”

In 1831, Gauss’ second wife died and his children went widely varying ways. Joseph became chief building officer with the Hanover railway company, which filled Gauss – who was fascinated by the development of the railways – with pride. Wilhelmine married the Göttingen Professor Ewald, who, as one of the “Göttingen Seven”, was forced to leave the town in 1837. The two sons from his second marriage, who had been the cause of great concern to their father for many years, emigrated to the USA in 1830 and 1837 respectively. From the time of her mother’s death onwards, Therese ran his household.

Though Gauss was himself engaged with mathematics and natural sciences, he was extremely interested in the literary works of his contemporaries. He gained particular pleasure from reading Jean Paul, whom he never knew in person but respected enormously. He also enjoyed keeping various number registers, collecting distances in numbers of paces, for example, and keeping a file documenting the duration of the lives of his friends and prominent people in days.

Following his death on 23.02.1855, contemporaries wrote of him: “The fact that Gauss was a prince of science was plain for all to see,” and yet “until the end of his days, he remained the straightforward, unpretentious Gauss he always was.”

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