The Countless Achievements of Math Master Euler


Some have called Euler the "Mozart of Mathematics," not only because of his genius but because of his prodigious output.

Euler contributed to essentially every field of mathematics -- calculus, geometry, number theory and the vast realm of applied mathematics. "He was a universalist when that was still possible," said Dunham, who has just edited a book, "The Genius of Euler," published by the Mathematical Association of America.

Nevertheless, Euler's greatest achievements may lie in what became mathematical analysis, which includes calculus and differential equations.

Although Newton and Gottfried Leibniz discovered calculus, Euler systematized it, made hundreds of discoveries and invented differential equations, which he successfully applied to mechanics and astronomy, transforming them from geometry-based disciplines to fully calculus-based ones. He almost single-handedly invented the calculus of variations, which among other things allowed the Apollo moon shot to hit its mark.

Euler's achievements were all the more remarkable because he lived a life that was both relatively normal and quite difficult.

In his early 30s, Euler lost most of the sight in his right eye. He developed a cataract in the other and was legally blind for the last dozen years of his life. He worked incessantly even after his eyesight failed, and was, it appears, a happy man.

Says Dunham: "You could hardly argue that he wasted a day of his life."


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