Pafnuty Lvovich Chebyshev

Chebyshev was a Russian mathematician who also had a great interest in mechanics. As such he constructed a automatic calculating machine.

Pafnuty Lvovich Chebyshev was born as one of nine children on May 16, 1821, in the small village of Okatovo in western Russia. His father, Lev Pavlovich Chebyshev, was a Russian nobleman and owned a large estate. Although retired when Pafnuty was born, he had been an officer in the Russian army who even had fought against Napoleon’s army. The Chebyshevs were considered an upper class family and several of the children would follow in their father’s footsteps and join the army. Not so for Pafnuty as he suffered from his one leg being a bit shorter than the other. This caused him to limp and even as a youngster he often used a walking stick. Obviously this ruled out a military career and even sports or playing children’s games in his youth was beyond him. It left him with ample time to exercise and train his mind.

The young Chebyshev was initially home educated in reading and writing by his mother. His cousin Avdotia Kvintiilanova Sukhareva taught him French and mathematics. In addition he received music lessons which “raised my mind to exactness and analysis”. His study in French would later benefit him greatly as his fluency in French enabled him to write his mathematical publications in French making it accessible to the Western world rather than in the far less accessible Russian language.

In 1832, the family moved to Moscow so their two oldest sons could study Law at the University of Moscow. His parents continued to engage the best teachers for the young Chebyshev, including the mathematics teacher P.N. Pogorelski who had a very good reputation. He gave his young pupil an excellent grounding in mathematics.

In 1837, Chebyshev started his mathematics study at the University of Moscow, where he studied under N.D. Brashman who also taught him practical mechanics. Chebyshev was a brilliant student and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree as “the most outstanding candidate”.

In 1846 he received his Master’s degree after defending his thesis “An Essay on the Elementary Analysis of the Theory of Probability”. In 1849 he published Teoria sravneny (“Theory of Congruences”) which he submitted successfully for his doctorate. In 1847 he was appointed to the University of St Petersburg where he continued lecturing until 1882. He also taught practical mechanics at the Alexander Lyceum in St Petersburg. In 1850 Chebyshev proved Bertrand’s conjecture that there is always at least one prime number between n and 2n for n > 3. Chebyshev has published many papers on a variety of mathematical subjects: the distribution of prime numbers, integration of algebraic functions, probability theory, number theory, the roots of equations, multiple integrals, the convergence of Taylor series (published in French in 1844).

In 1870 he constructed a mechanical calculating machine which could perform additions, subtractions, multiplications and divisions. This was probably done to assist him in his mathematical calculations.

Chebyshev died on December 8, 1894, in St Petersburg.

Chebyshev honoured

Chebyshev has been honoured numerous times and by numerous institutions, some of which are:
1849 – Member of the St Petersburg Academy of Sciences
1871 – Member of the Berlin Academy of Sciences
1873 – Member of the Bologna Academy of Sciences
1874 – Member of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France
1877 – Fellow of the Royal Society of London
1877 – Legion d’Honneur de France
1880 – Member of the Italian Royal Academy
1893 – Member of the Swedish Academy of Sciences
The lunar crater Chebyshev and the asteroid 2010 Chebyshev have been named in his honour.

The USSR honoured her great son by issuing a set of two stamps on May 25, 1946. Chebyshev has not been portrayed on any other philatelic item.

© Wobbe Vegter, 2010

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