Hermann Minkowski Biography

Hermann Minkowski, a renowned German mathematician, made immense contributions to the development of modern mathematics. His well-known work on the geometry of numbers revolutionized the field and he skillfully applied this theory to solve problems in number theory, mathematical physics, and the theory of relativity. Minkowski’s geometric method allowed him to understand and generalize the theory of continued fractions into an algorithm. Notably, he was a mentor to Albert Einstein, and together they explored the concept of four-dimensional space-time, known as “Minkowski space,” which provided a geometric understanding of Einstein’s special theory of relativity. Minkowski’s book “Space and Time” delved into this theory. His work, along with Einstein’s, established the close interlink between space and time. Minkowski’s theory of four-dimensional space-time later inspired Einstein’s work on general relativity. Additionally, Minkowski taught mathematics at prestigious universities such as the University of Bonn, Konigsberg University, and the University of Gottingen.

Quick Facts

  • German Celebrities Born In June Died At Age: 44
  • Family: father: Lewin Minkowski, mother: Rachel, siblings: Oskar Minkowski
  • Born Country: Lithuania
  • Mathematicians
  • German Men
  • Died on: January 12, 1909
  • Place of death: Göttingen, Germany
  • Ancestry: Polish German, Lithuanian German
  • Notable Alumni: Albertina University Of Königsberg
  • Cause of Death: Appendix
  • Education: Albertina University Of Königsberg
  • Awards: 1883 – Mathematics Prize

Childhood & Early Life

Hermann Minkowski was born in Aleksotas, Kingdom of Poland, as the son of Polish Jews parents Rachel and Lewin Minkowski. His father was a businessman. He received his early education at home till the age of seven. His parents shifted to Germany and settled in Konigsberg in 1872. He converted himself to Protestantism for educational purpose. He received his school education at the Altstadtisches Gymnasium in Konigsberg. In April 1880, he took admission at the University of Konigsberg. Later, he spent the winter semester of the academic year of 1882 to 1883, at the University of Berlin. During this time, he developed an interest towards quadratic forms of mathematics. In 1885, he obtained his doctorate degree from Konigsberg University under the guidance of Ferdinand von Lindermann, a renowned German mathematician. After that, he undertook obligatory military service.

Quotes: Time, Will

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In 1887, he joined the University of Bonn as a non-salaried lecturer. At that time, he submitted a paper namely “Spatial visualization and minima of positive definite quadratic forms” at the University. Gradually, he became the assistant professor at the University of Bonn in 1892. During this time, he worked on the motion of solids immersed in perfect liquid which was a part of mathematical physics. After two years, he returned to Konigsberg University where he taught for two years. After that, the Eidgenossische Polytechnikum Zurich appointed him for a teaching position. At Zurich he interacted with the students of engineering and mathematics. Here, he delivered lectures on a number of topics like potential theory, hydrodynamics, theory of functions and so on. In 1902, he accepted a chair at the University of Gottingen. He served in this position till his death. At that time, he became interested towards the study of mathematical physics. In 1905, he took part in a seminar on electron theory and acquired latest knowledge about electrodynamics. It was during this time when he put forward an advanced view about space and time by introducing the theory of relativity. He, for the first time, realised the importance of the Lorentz transformation idea regarding space and time. Earlier, physicists were unaware about the geometrical implications of Einstein’s special theory of relativity. Minkowski’s hard work resulted in the theory of a four-dimensional treatment of electrodynamics. In 1907, he published his work “Diophantische Approximationen: Eine Einfuhrung in die Zahlentheorie”.

Major Works

In 1896, he propounded his theory on geometry of numbers. This theory is applicable in functional analysis and Diophantine approximation. Through geometrical theory, he solved problems in number theory.

Awards & Achievements

In 1883, the French Academy of Sciences conferred him the Mathematics Prize for his manuscript on the theory of quadratic forms. Quadratic forms have wide usage in different branches of mathematics like linear algebra and number theories.

Personal Life & Legacy

He got married to Auguste Adler in 1897. They had two daughters namely Lily and Ruth. He died unexpectedly of appendicitis at the age of 44 in Gottingen. To honour his contribution, the asteroid ‘12493 Minkowski’ and ‘M-matrices’ are named after him. After his death, renowned physicists like Max von Laue and Arnold Sommerfeld extended his idea of space and time. In 1911, Lau published a textbook on the special theory of relativity and it was the first textbook that used the formulation of Minowski.

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