French Scholar of Mathematics, Statistics, Physics, Astronomy. He is best remembered as one of the greatest scientists of all time and referred to as the “French Newton” as in England’s Sir Isaac Newton. He was fourth of five children of Catholic parents, Pierre Laplace, and his wife Marie-Anne Sochon. His father was a farmer but his mother came from a fairly wealthy family. He attended local Benedictine schools. At the age of sixteen, he was sent to the University of Caen in Lower Normandy to study theology with the money received at the courtesy his wealthy neighbors. Instead of a studying his faith, he discovered a whole-new interest in mathematics. He decided not to become an ordained priest as his father has planned, but to become a mathematician and later, although not announcing it publicly, he dismissed the church to be an atheist. Leaving the university at nineteen year old, he received a letter of introduction to Jean le Rond d'Alembert, who was at that time, at the top in scientific circles. He studied under him for years and within five year, published remarkable mathematical papers obtaining fame in the scientific community. For years, he did research in astronomy and published his five-volume “Celestial Mechanics” from 1790 to 1825 to make an income. He redeveloped Newton’s origin of the Solar System, developed the theory of black holes and the notion of gravitational collapse. Several mathematical equations were named for him: Laplace equation, Laplace transforms which appear in physics and Laplace differential operators. In statistics, the Bayesian Interpretation was mainly credited to him. Laplace was made a member of the Paris Academic des Sciences in 1773, where he assumed a senior position in 1785. He was given the duty of standardizing all European weights and measures. During the First French Empire, he was made a count in 1806 and after the Bourbon Restoration, was named a Marquis in 1817. He was one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s teachers, who later recognized and rewarded him for his work, but they were not close friends. At the age of 39, he married the eighteen-year-old Marie-Charlotte de Courty de Romanges, and they had a son and a daughter. After his death, his smaller-than-usual brain was removed by his physician and eventually was displayed in a roving anatomical museum in Britain. Originally, he was buried at Pere Lachaise in Paris, but in 1888 at the request of his son, his remains were moved to St. Julien de Mailloc in the canton of Orbec and reinterred on the family estate along with his wife and daughter’s remains. The tomb is situated on a hill overlooking the village of St. Julien de Mailloc, Normandy, France. In 1806, Laplace was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and in 1822, was appointed a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Six months after his death, Louis Puissant, a French mathematician and geographer, was his replacement at the French Academy of Sciences. His books were republished after his death and in English, German and other world languages. Most of his personal papers were lost in a fire or stolen in a home invasion. Detailed biographies are “Pierre Simon Laplace, 1749-1827: A Determined Scientist” by Roger Hahn and “Pierre-Simon Laplace, 1749-1827: A Life in Exact Science” by Charles Coulston Gillispie and Ivor Grattan-Guinness. He was one of the 72 Frenchmen to have their names engraved on the Eiffel Tower; a street in Paris was named as a tribute to him.
Bio by: Linda Davis