(July 1, 1646 – November 14, 1716)
Gottfried von Leibniz was a universal genius: a jack-of-all-trades and a master-of-all. He contributed copiously to arts, sciences, and commerce. His flair for numbers enabled him to fine-tune the cumbersome arithmetic of the old binary system. Several analytical terms such as: parameters, functions, variables, and coordinates are attributed to him. His 17th-century contemplation, in which he stated that the earth is very likely to contain a molten core, has been hailed as a scintillating milestone in modern geology. He also explored the scopes of mathematical physics, and made advances in symbolic logic (which is a precursor to modern computing). In the process, he invented the pinwheel calculator and various other gadgets. He even anticipated Topology (as Geometria Situs) long before Leonhard Euler was born. Likewise, his formulation of the Principle of Least Action predated those of Euler and Pierre-Louis Maupertuis by four decades. Leibniz discovered Infinitesimal Calculus independently of Isaac Newton, and wrote more extensively on it than Newton did. His integral-cum-differential notations are in use today because they are easier, more intuitive, and above all, better than Newton’s. These are remarkable: considering the fact that he was a lawyer who learned science as a hobby (from Christiaan Huygens, as well as by studying the works of Blaise Pascal which Huygens recommended). In view of his brilliance and versatility, many scholars rank him among the smartest men ever known. And in 1985, the lucrative Leibniz Prize, (one of the most esteemed awards in science), was endowed in his honor.