Hermann Minkowski (June 22, 1864 â€“ January 12,
1909) was a
German mathematician of
Polish
Jewish descent, who created and developed the
geometry of numbers and who used
geometrical methods to solve difficult problems in
number theory,
mathematical physics, and the
theory of relativity.
Life and work
Hermann
Minkowski was born in Aleksotas, a suburb of Kaunas, Lithuania, which was then part of the Russian Empire, to a family of Lithuanian Jew and Polish Jewish descent. He was educated in
Germany at the
Albertina University of KÃ¶nigsberg,
where he achieved his doctorate in 1885 under direction of
Ferdinand von Lindemann. While still
a student at KÃ¶nigsberg, in 1883 he was awarded the Mathematics
Prize of the
French Academy
of Sciences for his manuscript on the theory of
quadratic forms. He also became a friend of
another German mathematician,
David
Hilbert.
Minkowski
taught at the universities of Bonn, GÃ¶ttingen, KÃ¶nigsberg and ZÃ¼rich.
At the
EidgenÃ¶ssische
Polytechnikum, today the ETH Zurich, he was one of Einstein's teachers.
Minkowski explored the
arithmetic of
quadratic forms, especially concerning
n variables,
and his research into that topic led him to consider certain
geometric properties in a space of
n dimensions. In 1896, he presented his
geometry of numbers, a geometrical
method that solved problems in
number
theory.
In 1902,
he joined the Mathematics Department of GÃ¶ttingen and became one of the close colleagues of David Hilbert, whom he first met in
KÃ¶nigsberg. Constantin CarathÃ©odory was one
of his students there.
Minkowski
died suddenly of appendicitis in
GÃ¶ttingen. His brother,
Oskar Minkowski (1858â€“1931), was a
well-known physician and researcher.
Relativity
By 1907 Minkowski realized that the
special theory of relativity,
introduced by
Albert Einstein in
1905 and based on previous work of
Lorentz and
PoincarÃ©, could be best understood in a
four dimensional space, since known as "
Minkowski spacetime", in which the
time and
space are not
separated entities but intermingled in a four dimensional
space-time, and in which the
Lorentz geometry of special
relativity can be nicely represented. The beginning part of his
address delivered at the 80th
Assembly of German Natural
Scientists and Physicians (September 21, 1908) is now
famous:
The views of space and time which I wish to lay before
you have sprung from the soil of experimental physics, and therein
lies their strength.
They are radical.
Henceforth space by itself, and time by itself, are
doomed to fade away into mere shadows, and only a kind of union of
the two will preserve an independent reality.
Citations
David Hilbert's obituary illustrates
the deep friendship between the two mathematicians:
- Seit meiner Studienzeit war mir Minkowski der beste und
zuverlÃ¤ssigste Freund, der an mir hing mit der ganzen ihm eigenen
Tiefe und Treue. Unsere Wissenschaft, die uns das liebste
war, hatte uns zusammengefÃ¼hrt; sie erschien uns wie ein blÃ¼hender
Garten. Gern suchten wir dort auch verborgene Pfade auf
und entdeckten manche neue, uns schÃ¶n dÃ¼nkende Aussicht, und wenn
der eine dem andern sie zeigte und wir sie gemeinsam bewunderten,
war unsere Freude vollkommen. Er war mir ein Geschenk des
Himmels, wie es nur selten jemand zuteil wird, und ich muss dankbar
sein, dass ich es so lange besaÃŸ. JÃ¤h hat ihn der Tod von
unserer Seite gerissen. Was uns aber der Tod nicht nehmen
kann, das ist sein edles Bild in unserem Herzen und das
Bewusstsein, dass sein Geist in uns fortwirkt.
- Translated:
- Since my student years Minkowski was my best, most dependable
friend who supported me with all the depth and loyalty that was so
characteristic of him. Our science, which we loved above all else,
brought us together; it seemed to us a garden full of flowers. In
it, we enjoyed looking for hidden pathways and discovered many a
new perspective that appealed to our sense of beauty, and when one
of us showed it to the other and we marvelled over it together, our
joy was complete. He was for me a rare gift from heaven and I must
be grateful to have possessed that gift for so long. Now death has
suddenly torn him from our midst. However , what death cannot take
away is his noble image in our hearts and the knowledge that his
spirit in us continue to be active.
The
asteroid 12493 Minkowski and
M-matrices are named in his honour.
References in popular culture
Publications
- Relativity papers
- Mathematical papers
See also
Notes
- Jewish Mathematicians at www.jinfo.org
External links