What exactly do mathematicians do? To fully appreciate mathematicians and their craft, you need to appreciate maths first. It is easy to confine your idea of maths to boring school lectures and difficult equations you can’t seem to wrap your head around. However, when taught and understood properly, maths can prove to be a beautiful subject (maybe even your favourite!).
Great mathematicians are the geniuses that translate this universal language for us. Being a mathematician is all about finding simple answers to everyday problems. ≟
How do architects make sure a building is built on sturdy enough ground? Using trigonometry.
How do you calculate (and work towards conserving) the water an entire city uses? Statistics.
Maths is the magic that helps us solve the problems we face every day, and mathematicians are wizards who show us how to wield them. So, who are the most famous mathematicians? Who are the best ones alive?
In this article, we explore the fascinating world of maths and some of its brightest minds.
Who is the greatest mathematician ever?
There’s a lot of debate on who the greatest mathematician of all time is, you’ll find a few common names on almost all lists. These mathematicians have scaled extraordinary heights within the discipline.🔝
Like physics, maths also has its own Newtons and Einsteins - the foundational masters and the modern geniuses that completely changed the field. Speaking of which, we encourage you to spot a fun, recurring theme within this list!
Carl Friedrich Gauss
Gauss is largely considered the Newton of mathematics (which, of course, is not a perfect analogy because Newton himself was a prolific mathematician cum physicist) - the greatest to ever do it. Born to a poor German family, Gauss overcame great adversity and became one of the best mathematicians of all time.
His work in many fields such as algebra, geometry, and probability theory is considered pioneering. For example, Gauss is known for his extensive work on the number theory and polynomials, the two most important cornerstones of algebra. Moreover, Gauss is also known for his theory of electric and magnetic fields from physics!
Leonard Euler is a Swiss mathematician known for his work in many disciplines such as geometry, trigonometry, algebra and the dreaded calculus. Euler came from humble beginnings and made an incredible mark on both mathematics and astronomy.
Euler’s equation, eiπ + 1 = 0, has even been dubbed the most beautiful equation in mathematics. Why? Because it shows how two irrational (never-ending) numbers - eπ, one imaginary number - i and one real number - 1 all add up to nothing!Euler’s identity has often been compared to a Shakespearean sonnet because of its beauty and simplicity.
Hypatia of Alexandria
Hypatia of Alexandria deserves a special mention on this list for having overcome the daunting barrier of gender discrimination during her time. In an age where women were frowned upon for wanting to get educated, Hypatia openly critiqued bonafide masters of the field like Ptolemy, Diophantus, and Apollonius through her research papers. Many consider Hypatia the greatest, most prolific mathematician of her time.
Hypatia’s work spans many vast topics like conic sections, number theory, astronomy and even fluid mechanics.
We include Terence Tao on our greatest of all-time list for achieving a rare feat that almost no other modern master has been able to achieve. In an age of specialisation, Tao’s work remains as vast and comprehensive as it is detailed. His areas of expertise range from partial differentials (or the calculus of change) to number theory and probability theory.
Timothy Gowers, another leading mathematician of the 21st century, describes Tao’s work by saying:
“It is not easy to find gaps in Tao’s knowledge, and if you do, then you may well find that the gaps have been filled a year later.”
Arguably the most famous name on the list, Pythagoras’s name is almost unanimous with geometry. Born in ancient Greece, Pythagoras was greatly influenced by the masters before him, such as Johannes Kepler, Euclid and Hippasus. Pythagoras worked extensively with geometry, focusing on triangles and their properties.
His theorem, the Pythagorean theorem, is considered one of the greatest mathematical identities of all time.
Note: The recurring theme here is that most of the mathematicians on our list were/are also avid physicists. This shows just how fascinatingly interconnected maths and physics are!
Top mathematicians working today
Here are our top 10 picks for the best, most prolific mathematicians working today:
- Keith Devlin
- Terence Tao
- Ian Stewart
- John Stillwell
- Bruce C. Berndt
- Timothy Gowers
- Peter Sarnak
- Martin Hairer
- Ingrid Daubechies
- Andrew Wiles
Mathematics is a fascinating subject if taught well. The greatest masters of maths have proven time and again that with the right ideas and encouragement, you can change the world with maths.
With GoStudent, you get to learn the fundamentals of maths from the best tutors worldwide. Our one on one tutoring and customised learning plans will help you fall in love with maths and explore this beautiful subject.