Henri Poincare was known as the originator of topology and discovered the theory of the functions of analytics. Read on to know more on his childhood, life and timeline in this biography.

Apart from being a well-known Mathematician, Jules Henri Poincare was a symbol of great repute and also indulged in the study of Philosophy. He had learned much during his lifetime of study and contribution in the field of Mathematics and Science and was later called as the ‘Polymath’ for having a strong foothold in a wide array of subjects. As a Mathematician, he discovered and created the field of topology, and studied the continuity of shapes. This would later help him in answering a crucial question based on the solar system and its stability. Apart from discovering Topology, he also contributed in the field of nonlinear systems and went on to describe the many properties of deterministic chaos. He was a great philosopher of Science and appreciated works that were largely based on celestial mechanics. One of the most crucial Mathematical theories based on dynamic systems, that he founded came through, in the form of ‘Qualitative Dynamics’. The first person to present the ‘Lorentz Transformations’, Henri Poincare was a pioneer in the field of special relativity and went on to influence a long list of Mathematicians, who also became popular in this field. With his colossal contribution and with a religious dedication to the subject, Henri Poincare became a legend, and a special group used in Physics and Mathematics known as the ‘Poincare Group’ was named after him.

Jules Henri Poincare was born 29th April 1854 to Leon Poincare and Eugenie Launois. He was born in the town of Nancy into an affluent family, where Henri’s father was a professor of Medicine at the University of Nancy. Poincare was born into a family of repute and celebrity status. Poincare’s first cousin, Raymond Poincare would become the President of France, serving Presidential term between the years 1913 to 1920.

As a child, Henri Poincare was known to have been an enthusiastic boy who reveled in the subject of Mathematics. Although he was afflicted with ‘Diphtheria’ for a short while, he persevered at enrolled at the ‘Lycee’ in Nancy in the year 1862, where he rose to excellence and was labeled a ‘top student’ with commendable grades. Although he had poor eye sight and a low concentration span, he excelled in the subjects related to science and Mathematics. His weakest subjects were Physical Education and Music and he rose to satisfactory level in these aspects. He won countless awards, and prestigious prizes at the ‘Concours general’, and graduated from Lycee in 1871 with a Bachelor’s degree in Sciences and Letters. At the start of 1870, the Franco-Prussian War commenced and it was at this point, where he joined ranks with his father in the Ambulance Corps, just before graduating.

After his graduation from the Lycee, he enrolled at the ‘Polytechnic College’ in the year 1873, where he continued to study Mathematics and published his first dissertation under the guidance of Charles Hermite in the year 1874. He successfully graduated from the college in the year 1875, and registered at the “Ecole des Mines” to study mining engineering out of sheer curiosity and interest for the subject. He was successful in his endeavors and graduated with an Engineering degree in the year 1879. He was already becoming qualified in various aspects of education, and was becoming exposed to a wider horizon related to the field of Mathematics and Science. Once he graduated from Ecole des Mines, he began to prepare for his doctorate degree and wrote a thesis on ‘differential equations’ under the supervision of Charles Hermite, who helped him with his first dissertation. He devised new theories and methods of studying these equations and was also the first person who decided to study their geometric properties that would help him in studying the functioning of the Solar System much later in life. With a successful proposition, he graduated from the University of Paris in the year 1879, and gained his doctorate degree.

Poincare’s career flourished the same year when he joined the ‘Corps des Mines’ as an inspector in the northeastern province of France, in a place called Vesoul. He was also called to oversee the scene of a mining disaster that took the lives of 18 people in the area of Magny in the year 1879. He scientifically explored the different aspects of the disaster and put forth a probable conclusion to the investigation much later. Soon after he graduated from the University of Paris the same year, he was asked to assume post as a secondary lecturer in Mathematics at the Caen University, which earned him his first real job. He was interested in keeping his other job in the mining industry along with teaching Mathematics at the University.

He served the University of Paris as a Professor for a long time, till the end of his career. He held countless positions in the Physics and Mathematics department, and also diversified into the field of Astronomy. In the beginning of the year 1880, Poincare discovered automorphic and elliptic functions were connected to the same group of Algebraic equations. Through the course of the 1880’s, Poincare did fundamental work in the field of celestial mechanics and went on to produce a treatise with his findings at a much later stage in life. In the year 1887, he came up with the famous ‘three body problem’ which studied the motion of orbiting objects. He was awarded a prize by Oscar the 2nd, King of Sweden, when Poincare succeeded in finding out the solution to the problem of gauging the stability of the Solar System. Poincare successfully presented the answer to this question by the King in the form of a publication, and discovered the theory of the ‘three body problem’. This was a classic example of classical mechanics, and eventually led to the discovery of the ‘Theory of Chaos’. The theory of Special relativity was also founded by Henri Poincare and others by the names of Hendrik Lorentz and Albert Einstein.

Although he continuously engaged himself in discovering various aspects of Science and Mathematics, he continued to work as an Engineer and was later promoted to Chief Engineer at the Corps de Mines in the year 1893, followed by a promotion to Inspector in the year 1910.

Just before he was promoted to Inspector in the year 1910, Poincare studied many aspects of scientific philosophy and contributed to different divisions such as fluid mechanics and special relativity with his broad understanding of the subject from multifarious angles. He also joined the French Bureau of Longitudes where he coordinated time around the world. With all these other occupations keeping him busy, towards the beginning of 1895, Poincare discovered and introduced modern methods of topology, and came up with various differential equations that would help understand theory of continuity. Through the next three years, in the year 1899, he created the treatise ‘Les Methodes Nouvelles de la Mecanique Celeste’ in different editions and volumes, that became more of a “Bible” in the world of Mathematics and Celestial Mechanics. Through the years leading to 1910, he worked on a number of projects, and even engaged himself in the trials of Alfred Dreyfus, an officer charged with treason for joining the French Ranks.

Through his tenure, he made significant contributions to the world of Mathematics and Science in the form of Algebraic topology, the theory of relativity, the recurrence theorem, the three-body problem, quantum mechanics and differential equations as few examples. He inspired a long line of students who would also go on to make an indelible mark in the field of Math and science. Some of his prized students were Dimitrie Pompieu, Tobiaz Dantzig and Louis Bachelier.

Poincare married Miss Poulain d’Andecy towards the beginning of the year of 1881. They went on to have four children together over the course of several years. Poincare was given many awards and was recognized for his contributions by the French Academy of Sciences and the Royal Astronomical Society in London. Although he was a career-minded person, Poincare was said to have lived a happy and doted his family.

In the first half of 1912, Poincare had developed a prostate problem and had to undergo surgery. He consequently succumbed to embolism on July 17th 1912 at the age of 58. His life was cut short and he was buried at the family cemetery in Paris. Poincare’s works went on to make history all over the world and he had in fact, popularized the subject of Mathematics and Science, and wrote several books before his death, which led to the continuation of his fabled legacy. His works on thermodynamics, quantum physics, optics, and fluid mechanics, inspired a long line of successors in the fields of Physics and Mathematics, and the likes of Marie Curie.

Institutions and seminars began to adopt Poincare’s name and attached it with theirs such as the ‘Institut Henri Poincare’ and the ‘Poincare Seminar’. His legacy travelled to as far as the solar system, and a specific crater on the moon was named after Henri Poincare, known as the ‘Poincare crater’. The number of people, who attended Poincare’s funeral, including Presidents and members of the Royal Society, was proof enough to show how popular and important Henri Poincare was in the field of science, Mathematics and Politics.

1854: Jules Henri Poincare was born in Nancy, France to an influential family.

1862: Poincare entered the Lycee and excelled in the subject of Mathematics.

1870: Served along with his father at the Ambulance Corps during the Franco-Prussian War.

1871: Graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Sciences.

1873: Entered the ‘Ecole Polytechnique’ and graduated in Mathematics.

1879: Graduated as an Engineer from the Ecole des Mines, in addition to studying Mathematics, and also had to oversee the mine disaster at Magny. He also graduated from the University of Paris with a doctorate degree the same year.

1880: Studied fundamental works on celestial mechanics.

1881: Married Miss Poulain d’Andecy.

1887: He came up with the ‘three body problem’ and was awarded for his efforts in deciphering the balance of the solar system by King Oscar the 2nd.

1893: He was promoted to Chief Engineer at the Corps de Mines.

1895: Discovered modern methods and equations related to the field of Topology.

1899: Wrote his famous Treatise.

1910: Engaged in the trials of Alfred Dreyfus and was also promoted to Inspector by the Corps de Mines.

1912: Died of embolism in the month of July.

Henri Poincaré Biography

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June 24, 2019