Émilie du Châtelet’s 315th Birthday – Today’s Doodle celebrates the 315th birthday of French mathematician, physicist, translator, and philosopher Émilie du Châtelet, whose contributions to Newtonian theory and mission to make scientific literature more accessible helped clear the path for modern physics.
Émilie du Châtelet was born Gabrielle-Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil in Paris on this day in 1706—a time when it was rare for women to publicly pursue intellectual careers. Raised in an aristocratic household, Châtelet learned avidly from the distinguished scientists and mathematicians whom her family often entertained. She complemented her formal math and science studies with fencing and linguistics lessons, learning six languages by age 12. Despite society’s discouragement of women pursuing the sciences, Châtelet broke convention.
In her 20s, she married Marquis Florent-Claude du Châtelet, a prominent military officer, and their estate library housed approximately 21,000 books! After months of clandestine research and experimentation, Châtelet submitted a groundbreaking physics paper to the French Academy of Sciences in 1737 that predicted the existence of infrared radiation. Voltaire, an eminent writer of the French enlightenment, recognized her talents, and in 1738, the pair published “Elements of Newton’s Philosophy” under Voltaire’s name. This pioneering book broke down complex Newtonian physics into easy-to-understand terms for French readers.
Châtelet’s magnum opus came in 1740 with the anonymous publication of “The Foundations of Physics,” a work of natural philosophy that married Newtonian physics with metaphysics. Her work played an instrumental role in the acceptance of Newtonian physics across Europe. Albeit anonymously, Châtelet continued to revolutionize physics by translating “Principia,” Newton’s manifesto for the laws of motion and gravity. Published posthumously in 1759, it remains the leading French translation to this day.
Here’s to an unstoppable force in the progression of physics!
Early drafts of the Doodle
You can find more about Émilie du Châtelet’s 315th Birthday on the official Google Doodle Page
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