Who was Joseph Fourier?

The French Mathematician Who Invented Fourier Series
joseph fourier series transform physics maths

Joseph Fourier is a renowned name in the scientific world credit to Fourier series and Fourier transform. His work is useful to various problems in physics including (but not limited to) heat transfer and vibrations.

Apart from his scientific ventures, Fourier was also involved in French politics. He played a significant part in the French Revolution at his district and came to the notice of a young French revolutionary Napoleon Bonaparte.

Joseph Fourier was born on March 21, 1768 in Auxerre, France to a very poor family. He was orphaned at the age of nine. Fourier could not afford formal schooling as a result, however, he did receive an extensive training by the Church.

His exceptional mathematical prowess was recognized by those around. Fourier was appointed scientific advisor to Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798 at the age of 30. He was promoted by Napoleon to the post of governor in Southeastern France.

It was there, in his free time, that Fourier conducted experiments on heat transfer. In 1807, he submitted a paper on the same to Paris Institute and invented two important mathematical tools while doing so.

The first contribution is called Fourier series in his honor. The tool to make other functions by adding infinite sine (and/or cosine) waves. It was indeed a groundbreaking breakthrough at the time.

The second contribution was dimensional analysis i.e. an equation can be correct only if the dimensions match on both sides of the equality. This finds use in physics.

In the 1820s, Fourier made another contribution to math: finding real roots of polynomials. But, his major work in this decade was the discovery of and experiments on the greenhouse effect.

In 1827, Fourier published an article in which he claimed that the Earth's atmosphere might act as an insulator. This was his last major work as he died in 1830 aged 62.

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