Who is it? | Mathematician |
Birth Day | February 13, 1805 |
Birth Place | Düren, German |
Age | 214 YEARS OLD |
Died On | 5 May 1859(1859-05-05) (aged 54)\nGöttingen, Kingdom of Hanover |
Birth Sign | Pisces |
Residence | Prussia |
Known for | See full list |
Awards | PhD (Hon): University of Bonn (1827) Pour le Mérite (1855) |
Fields | Mathematician |
Institutions | University of Breslau University of Berlin University of Göttingen |
Thesis | Partial Results on Fermat's Last Theorem, Exponent 5 (1827) |
Academic advisors | Siméon Poisson Joseph Fourier Carl Gauss |
Doctoral students | Gotthold Eisenstein Leopold Kronecker Rudolf Lipschitz Carl Wilhelm Borchardt |
Other notable students | Moritz Cantor Elwin Bruno Christoffel Richard Dedekind Alfred Enneper Eduard Heine Bernhard Riemann Ludwig Schläfli Ludwig von Seidel Wilhelm Weber Julius Weingarten |
Gustav Lejeune Dirichlet was born on 13 February 1805 in Düren, a town on the left bank of the Rhine which at the time was part of the First French Empire, reverting to Prussia after the Congress of Vienna in 1815. His father Johann Arnold Lejeune Dirichlet was the postmaster, merchant, and city councilor. His paternal grandfather had come to Düren from Richelette (or more likely Richelle), a small community 5 km north east of Liège in Belgium, from which his surname "Lejeune Dirichlet" ("le jeune de Richelette", French for "the youth from Richelette") was derived.
Although his family was not wealthy and he was the youngest of seven children, his parents supported his education. They enrolled him in an elementary school and then private school in hope that he would later become a merchant. The young Dirichlet, who showed a strong interest in mathematics before age 12, convinced his parents to allow him to continue his studies. In 1817 they sent him to the Gymnasium Bonn (de) under the care of Peter Joseph Elvenich, a student his family knew. In 1820 Dirichlet moved to the Jesuit Gymnasium in Cologne, where his lessons with Georg Ohm helped widen his knowledge in mathematics. He left the gymnasium a year later with only a certificate, as his inability to speak fluent Latin prevented him from earning the Abitur.
Dirichlet again convinced his parents to provide further financial support for his studies in mathematics, against their wish for a career in law. As Germany provided little opportunity to study higher mathematics at the time, with only Gauss at the University of Göttingen who was nominally a professor of astronomy and anyway disliked teaching, Dirichlet decided to go to Paris in May 1822. There he attended classes at the Collège de France and at the Faculté des sciences de Paris, learning mathematics from Hachette among others, while undertaking private study of Gauss's Disquisitiones Arithmeticae, a book he kept close for his entire life. In 1823 he was recommended to General Foy, who hired him as a private tutor to teach his children German, the wage finally allowing Dirichlet to become independent from his parents' financial support.
As General Foy died in November 1825 and he could not find any paying position in France, Dirichlet had to return to Prussia. Fourier and Poisson introduced him to Alexander von Humboldt, who had been called to join the court of King Friedrich Wilhelm III. Humboldt, planning to make Berlin a center of science and research, immediately offered his help to Dirichlet, sending letters in his favour to the Prussian government and to the Prussian Academy of Sciences. Humboldt also secured a recommendation letter from Gauss, who upon reading his memoir on Fermat's theorem wrote with an unusual amount of praise that "Dirichlet showed excellent talent". With the support of Humboldt and Gauss, Dirichlet was offered a teaching position at the University of Breslau. However, as he had not passed a doctoral dissertation, he submitted his memoir on the Fermat theorem as a thesis to the University of Bonn. Again his lack of fluency in Latin rendered him unable to hold the required public disputation of his thesis; after much discussion, the University decided to bypass the Problem by awarding him an honorary doctorate in February 1827. Also, the Minister of Education granted him a dispensation for the Latin disputation required for the Habilitation. Dirichlet earned the Habilitation and lectured in the 1827/28 year as a Privatdozent at Breslau.
Inspired by the work of his mentor in Paris, Dirichlet published in 1829 a famous memoir giving the conditions, showing for which functions the convergence of the Fourier series holds. Before Dirichlet's solution, not only Fourier, but also Poisson and Cauchy had tried unsuccessfully to find a rigorous proof of convergence. The memoir pointed out Cauchy's mistake and introduced Dirichlet's test for the convergence of series. It also introduced the Dirichlet function as an Example of a function that is not integrable (the definite integral was still a developing topic at the time) and, in the proof of the theorem for the Fourier series, introduced the Dirichlet kernel and the Dirichlet integral.
As soon as he came to Berlin, Dirichlet applied to lecture at the University of Berlin, and the Education Minister approved the transfer and in 1831 assigned him to the faculty of philosophy. The faculty required him to undertake a renewed habilitation qualification, and although Dirichlet wrote a Habilitationsschrift as needed, he postponed giving the mandatory lecture in Latin for another 20 years, until 1851. As he had not completed this formal requirement, he remained attached to the faculty with less than full rights, including restricted emoluments, forcing him to keep in parallel his teaching position at the Military School. In 1832 Dirichlet became a member of the Prussian Academy of Sciences, the youngest member at only 27 years old.
After moving to Berlin, Humboldt introduced Dirichlet to the great salons held by the banker Abraham Mendelssohn Bartholdy and his family. Their house was a weekly gathering point for Berlin artists and Scientists, including Abraham's children Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn, both outstanding Musicians, and the Painter Wilhelm Hensel (Fanny's husband). Dirichlet showed great interest in Abraham's daughter Rebecka Mendelssohn, whom he married in 1832. In 1833 their first son, Walter, was born.
Number theory was Dirichlet's main research interest, a field in which he found several deep results and in proving them introduced some fundamental tools, many of which were later named after him. In 1837, he published Dirichlet's theorem on arithmetic progressions, using mathematical analysis concepts to tackle an algebraic Problem and thus creating the branch of analytic number theory. In proving the theorem, he introduced the Dirichlet characters and L-functions. Also, in the article he noted the difference between the absolute and conditional convergence of series and its impact in what was later called the Riemann series theorem. In 1841, he generalized his arithmetic progressions theorem from integers to the ring of Gaussian integers $\mathbb {Z} [i]$.
In a couple of papers in 1838 and 1839, he proved the first class number formula, for quadratic forms (later refined by his student Kronecker). The formula, which Jacobi called a result "touching the utmost of human acumen", opened the way for similar results regarding more general number fields. Based on his research of the structure of the unit group of quadratic fields, he proved the Dirichlet unit theorem, a fundamental result in algebraic number theory.
In 1843, when Jacobi fell ill, Dirichlet traveled to Königsberg to help him, then obtained for him the assistance of King Friedrich Wilhelm IV's personal physician. When the medic recommended Jacobi to spend some time in Italy, he joined him on the trip together with his family. They were accompanied to Italy by Ludwig Schläfli, who came as a translator; as he was strongly interested in mathematics, both Dirichlet and Jacobi lectured him during the trip, and he later became an important Mathematician himself. The Dirichlet family extended their stay in Italy to 1845, their daughter Flora being born there. In 1844, Jacobi moved to Berlin as a royal pensioner, their friendship becoming even closer. In 1846, when the Heidelberg University tried to recruit Dirichlet, Jacobi provided von Humboldt the needed support in order to obtain a doubling of Dirichlet's pay at the University in order to keep him in Berlin; however, even now he wasn't paid a full professor wage and he could not leave the Military Academy.
Holding liberal views, Dirichlet and his family supported the 1848 revolution; he even guarded with a rifle the palace of the Prince of Prussia. After the revolution failed, the Military Academy closed temporarily, causing him a large loss of income. When it reopened, the environment became more hostile to him, as officers to whom he was teaching would ordinarily be expected to be loyal to the constituted government. A portion of the press who were not with the revolution pointed him out, as well as Jacobi and other liberal professors, as "the red contingent of the staff".
In 1849 Dirichlet participated, together with his friend Jacobi, in the Jubilee of Gauss's doctorate.
Despite Dirichlet's expertise and the honours he received, and even though, by 1851, he had finally completed all formal requirements for a full professor, the issue of raising his payment at the University still dragged on and he was still unable to leave the Military Academy. In 1855, upon Gauss's death, the University of Göttingen decided to call Dirichlet as his successor. Given the difficulties faced in Berlin, he decided to accept the offer and immediately moved to Göttingen with his family. Kummer was called to assume his position as a professor of mathematics in Berlin.
In 1855 Dirichlet was awarded the civil class medal of the Pour le Mérite order at von Humboldt's recommendation. The Dirichlet crater on the Moon and the 11665 Dirichlet asteroid are named after him.
In the summer of 1858, during a trip to Montreux, Dirichlet suffered a heart attack. On 5 May 1859, he died in Göttingen, several months after the death of his wife Rebecka. Dirichlet's brain is preserved in the department of physiology at the University of Göttingen, along with the brain of Gauss. The Academy in Berlin honored him with a formal memorial speech presented by Kummer in 1860, and later ordered the publication of his collected works edited by Kronecker and Lazarus Fuchs.