Pierre De Fermat was a French mathematician born on 17th August 1601 in Beaumont-de-Lomagne, France to a wealthy merchant family. His early schooling was from the local Franciscan monastery. He took his higher education from the University of Toulouse. Fermat was a Lawyer by profession but is credited most for his accomplishments in the field of mathematics.
He is particularly known for his developments in infinitesimal calculus and for discovering the method for finding the greatest and smallest ordinates of curved lines. He also did a considerable amount of research of the number theory. His contributions to analytical geometry, optics and probability are noteworthy.
After Fermat moved to Bordeaux in the 1620s, he began his research work in various mathematical topics. His collaboration with the leading mathematicians there produced some important works such as his work on maxima and minima. After Bordeaux were his travel to Orleans where he studied law and gained a civil law degree in 1631. He got the title of ‘councillor’ at the High Court of Judicature in Toulouse.
His mathematical work continued along with his job as councilor. He often wrote letters to his friends which consisted of many theorems however many of these did not include any proof to them. This is what gave him the title of ‘amateur mathematician’ although he still got the desired recognition which led to dispute with some of the contemporary mathematicians like Descartes and Wallis.
His work in analytical geometry was inspired from a famous problem of Apollonius. Fermat provided a proof to this problem using analytical methods. He also found a way of calculating the length of a curve. His ‘maxima and minima’ method was also a very significant discovery which was first published in 1638, used later to find the center of gravity.
Fermat’s work in optics was an advance to the theory of light by Heron of Alexandria. He made some corrections to the theory such as his demonstration of refracted light that should be measured by optical distance which is always a minimum. He also gave the correct fact that light passes more slowly in a dense medium. It was this work by Fermat that influenced the famous mathematician Johann Bernoulli to forming the calculus of variations.
His work in the foundation of a theory of probability is incomparable to the work done by any other mathematician of that time and even after that as a matter of fact. Fermat claimed to prove all his theorems however, except for Fermat’s famous Last Theorem, none of the other proven theorems have been found.
Fermat was one of the most prominent mathematicians of the first half of the seventeenth century and would have been more acclaimed if more was known about his personal life. Many top mathematicians claim to have been influenced by Fermat’s work including Isaac Newton and Andrew Wiles.
Pierre De Fermat died on 12th January 1665 in Castres, Tarn. A highly prestigious school in Toulouse is named after him as ‘Lycee Pierre De Fermat’. There is also a statue of him at the Capitole of Toulouse made by the French sculptor Theophile Barrau.