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Joseph Louis Lagrange

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Mathematician and Astronomer.

Joseph-Louis Lagrange (25 January 1736 – 10 April 1813), was an Italian-born French mathematician and astronomer born in Turin, Piedmont, who lived part of his life in Prussia and part in France. He made significant contributions to all fields of analysis, number theory, and classical and celestial mechanics. On the recommendation of Euler and d'Alembert, in 1766 Lagrange succeeded Euler as the director of mathematics at the Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin, where he stayed for over twenty years, producing a large body of work and winning several prizes of the French Academy of Sciences. Lagrange's treatise on analytical mechanics (Mécanique Analytique, 4. ed., 2 vols. Paris: Gauthier-Villars et fils, 1888–89), written in Berlin and first published in 1788, offered the most comprehensive treatment of classical mechanics since Newton and formed a basis for the development of mathematical physics in the nineteenth century.

Lagrange was one of the creators of the calculus of variations, deriving the Euler–Lagrange equations for extrema of functionals. He also extended the method to take into account possible constraints, arriving at the method of Lagrange multipliers. Lagrange invented the method of solving differential equations known as variation of parameters, applied differential calculus to the theory of probabilities and attained notable work on the solution of equations. He proved that every natural number is a sum of four squares. His treatise Theorie des fonctions analytiques laid some of the foundations of group theory, anticipating Galois. In calculus, Lagrange developed a novel approach to interpolation and Taylor series. He studied the three-body problem for the Earth, Sun and Moon (1764) and the movement of Jupiter’s satellites (1766), and in 1772 found the special-case solutions to this problem that yield what are now known as Lagrangian points. But above all he impressed on mechanics, having transformed Newtonian mechanics into a branch of analysis, Lagrangian mechanics as it is now called, and exhibited the so-called mechanical "principles" as simple results of the variational calculus.


1.) "Napoleon replies: "How comes it, then, that Laplace was an atheist? At the Institute neither he nor Monge, nor Berthollet, nor Lagrange believed in God. But they did not like to say so." Baron Gaspard Gourgaud, Talks of Napoleon at St. Helena with General Baron Gourgaud (1904), page 274.

2.) "In religious matters Lagrange was, if anything at all, agnostic." Eric Temple Bell, Men of Mathematics (1986).

3.) "Lagrange and Laplace, though of Catholic parentage, were agnostics." Morris Kline, Mathematics and the Search for Knowledge (1986), page 214.