(March 23, 1749 – March 5, 1827)
Before delving into the contributions of Pierre-Simon Laplace, let me mention that he died on the same day as Alessandro Volta (the inventor of electric battery). Although a mere coincidence, it was a double whammy for 19th century science. Laplace made far-reaching contributions to physics and mathematics. Among others, his works on Probability Theory are remarkable. The same is true for his exploits in Celestial Mechanics, which improved Isaac Newton’s works in ways that earned him the nickname: “French Newton”. He also helped Antoine Lavoisier establish the metric system of measurements; and later cooperated with him in thermochemical research (via their joint combustion and specific heat evaluations). It was during these experiments that he became the first person to assert that sound’s velocity in air varies with the atmospheric heat capacity ratio. His five-volume compendium, titled Mécanique Céleste, employed geometric calculus (in lieu of synthetic geometry) for more accuracy in solving classical mechanical problems. Also, Laplace’s reluctance to ignore micro issues enabled him triumph where greater mavens, such as Leonhard Euler and Joseph-Louis Lagrange, stumped. This pertained to the problem in which Jupiter’s orbit seemed to be shrinking whereas that of Saturn seemed to be expanding. He succeeded by factoring-in all the negligible approximations which Euler and Lagrange had neglected, but which cumulatively yielded a more accurate result. In addition to many maths and physics concepts, the 4628 Laplace asteroid is named after him. Likewise, he is the eponym of Promontorium Laplace mountain cape on the moon’s Montes Jura.