Betsy has a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from the University of Memphis, M.S. from the University of Virginia, and B.S. from Mississippi State University. She has over 10 years of experience developing STEM curriculum and teaching physics, engineering, and biology.
Who was Christiaan Huygens?
During the 1600's, the scientific world was in the middle of a revolution. The superstitions of the Middle Ages were disappearing as a new picture of how the universe really works was emerging. This revolution was happening thanks to the work of a few brilliant scientists and thinkers. One of these revolutionaries was the Dutch mathematician and scientist Christiaan Huygens. A prolific researcher and inventor, he made critical contributions to a variety of scientific fields during his lifetime.
He is probably most well known for developing the wave theory of light, but he also discovered the shape of the rings of Saturn, made many contributions to our understanding of how forces affect the motion of objects, and built the world's first pendulum clock, which was the most accurate time keeping device ever made at that time. Huygens's pendulum clock enabled astronomers to make much more accurate measurements than they had been able to previously and led to many new astronomical discoveries.
Early Life and Education
Huygens was born in 1629 in The Hague, a city in the middle of the Netherlands. His family was wealthy and prominent, and his father, who made his living primarily as a diplomat, included many scientists from all over Europe among his friends and correspondents. As a child, Huygens was tutored at home in a variety of subjects. From a young age, he demonstrated his mechanical abilities and a particular talent for mathematics. The famous philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes visited the Huygens family regularly when he was a child, and young Christiaan impressed him with his abilities in geometry.
At the age of 16, Huygens enrolled in the University of Leiden, where he studied mathematics and law from 1645-1647. He then transferred to the College of Breda to continue his study of those subjects. It wasn't long before he would begin to make his mark on the world of science and mathematics, publishing his first papers, which addressed problems in mathematics, in 1651 and 1654.
Although Huygens's education primarily focused on mathematics, he would go on to make contributions to many scientific fields. In 1654, he developed a new way to make lenses and used his improved lenses to make a telescope that was a lot better than the telescopes commonly in use at the time. Using his new and improved telescope, he was able to accurately view the rings of Saturn for the first time, and he even discovered that Saturn had a moon, which was also something no one had been able to see before!
Another problem that had plagued astronomers was the lack of an accurate way to measure time. Huygens decided to tackle this as well, and in 1656, produced the first pendulum clock, which was able to measure time much more accurately than other devices of the time. This led to many other astronomical discoveries, by Huygens and others.
Life in Paris
In 1666, Huygens moved to Paris where he helped to found the French Academy of Sciences and was one of its most prominent members. He would continue to live and work in Paris until 1881. While in Paris, Huygens collaborated with many scientists and mathematicians, including Robert Hooke, Blaise Pascal, and Gottfried Willhelm Liebniz.
In 1673, he published an extremely influential book called Horologium Oscillatorium. This important book included an explanation of the mathematics of curved surfaces and solutions to many problems related to circular and rotational motion.
A few years later, in 1678, he wrote about his work on light in a book called Traité de la lumiere. In this book, Huygens argued that light behaved as a wave and proposed what is now known as Huygens' principle, which says that each point on a light wave acts as a source for new waves, called wavelets, that all spread out at the same speed. Today, this discovery is what Huygens is most well known for, and Huygens' principle is still used to explain diffraction, reflection, and interference of light.
Later Life and Legacy
In 1681, Huygens became very sick and decided to return to the Netherlands. Despite ill health, he continued to work and lecture for several more years before his death in 1695.
Today, Huygens is remembered as one of the great scientists of the seventeenth century. He made many contributions to science, including inventing the pendulum clock and developing Huygen's principle to explain how light waves propagate.
Christiaan Huygens was one of the most influential scientists of the seventeenth century. He was born in 1629 in the Netherlands and spent a large part of his professional life living and working in Paris. He invented a new way to make telescope lenses, which led to the development of a new telescope. This allowed him to see the rings of Saturn clearly for the first time and to discover one of the moons of Saturn. He also invented a pendulum clock that was very accurate for the time.
Later, he published books on the mechanics of circular and rotational motion and developed a theory of how light propagates as a wave which is now known as Huygens' principle. After living in Paris from 1666-1681, Huygens's health forced him to return to the Netherlands in 1681. He died there in 1695 after a long and very productive life as a scientist and mathematician.
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