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Pierre de Fermat

Born 1601 in Beaumont-de-Lomagne, France, died 1665 in Castres, France

Pierre Fermat came from a wealthy family and attended the University of Toulouse before moving to Bordeaux. Here he acquired an interest in mathematics which was his life-long interest although he never became a professional mathematician. Fermat studied law at the university of Orleans and came back to Toulouse where he became a government official. The high office he eventually acquired there gave him the right to get 'de' in the middle of his name.

Fermat's life revolved around the familiar places - he lived mostly in Toulouse, but often went to his home town of Beaumoont-de-Lomagne and a nearby town of Castres.

The interest in mathematics that Fermat had brought him in contact with many contemporary mathematicians. However, he was generally a private person and did not like to share his research findings with other people. He corresponded with Mersenne, a famous mathematical correspondent (see about his 20 th century equivalent here) and sent him letters posing questions that he had already solved privately himself.

Fermat never seemed to have wanted his work to be published. He also seemed to have annoyed great many mathematicians through his correspondence and questions that he pose to them, which some found quite impossible. It is through this characteristic that Fermat is famous even today. Namely, after his death, his son went through the books that his father left to him and found a note in Diophanti's Arithmetica which said

I have discovered a truly remarkable proof which this margin is too small to contain.

This was related to what is now known as the 'Fermat's Last Theorem'. The theorem is based on Pythagoras' Theorem. Pythagoras' Theorem, as we know, states that

which means that, in any right angled triangle, the square on hypotenuse is equal to the sum of squares on other two sides.

Fermat went a bit further. He tried to find out whether this can be applied to 3 dimensional space, and to see whether

would be valid. In other words, whether there is a cube built on the longest side of a right-angled triangular prism which would be equal to the sum of cubes on two other sides of the prism.

He then said that

is valid only for n<2. This is known as his Last Theorem.

See more about it through the presentation given in a side bar.

See more about Fermat's Last Theorem from the presentation by clicking on the picture below.

Learn also about his Arithmetica, one of the most celebrated books in the history of mathematics.

Fermat's note in the margin can help you with your homework. How? See the list of excuses not to do mathematics homework.

Other famous mathematicians can be found here.

Some of them had their pictures taken when they were children. See famous children here.

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