Fourier Joseph 17681830

JOSPEH FOURIER WAS a French mathematician, also acknowledged as an Egyptologist and administrator, who greatly influenced mathematical physics through his Théorie analytique de la chaleur (1822; The Analytical Theory of Heat). He analyzed the con duction of heat in solid bodies in terms of infinite mathematical series now called the Fourier series. His work went well beyond the area of heat conduction, stimulating research in mathematical physics. Since Fourier, the discipline has been identified with the solution of boundary-value problems, focusing on many natural occurrences such as sunspots, tides, and the weather. Fourier has also contributed to the theory of functions of a real variable, one of the main branches of modern mathematics. The mathematician was one of the earliest proponents of the theory of global warming, although his many other achievements have overshadowed such contribution. In an article first published in 1824, Fourier pioneered the study of global warming, arguing that the atmosphere absorbs some of the Sun's warmth and sends it back to the Earth.

Fourier was born on March 21, 1768 in Auxerre, Bourgogne, France, the ninth of 12 children from his father's second marriage. His childhood was marked by the premature death of both his parents. His mother died when he was 9 years old and his father, a tailor, died the following year. Fourier started his education at Pallais's school, run by the music master from the cathedral. Because of the great potential that he had shown, he proceeded, in 1780 ,to the Ecole Royale Militaire of Auxerre where first he excelled in literature, but very soon understood that his favorite field was mathematics.

In 1787, Fourier entered the Benedictine abbey of St Benoit-sur-Loire to become a priest. His interest in mathematics continued, however, and Fourier was not completely sure that training for the priesthood was the right decision. In his correspondence with C. L. Bonard, the professor of mathematics at Auxerre, he admitted that he really wanted to make a major impact in mathematics. In the end, Fourier did not take his religious vows and left St Benoit in 1789. The following year, he found employment as a teacher at the Benedictine college, Ecole Royale Militaire of Auxerre, where he had studied. With the outbreak of the French Revolution, political commitment also entered Fourier's life, and, in 1793, the mathematician became involved in politics and joined the local Revolutionary Committee. Fourier was "enamored," as he wrote, of the ideal of equality that pervaded the Revolution at the beginning, although he was appalled by the excesses that soon characterized the Terror.

After being briefly imprisoned due to internal feuds within the Revolutionary Front, later in 1794, Fourier was accepted to study at the Ecole Normale in Paris. This institution had been established for training teachers, and was intended to serve as a model for other teacher-training schools. Fourier began teaching at the Collège de France and, thanks to his contacts with Lagrange, Laplace and Monge, who had been his teachers at the Normale, began further mathematical research. He was appointed to a position at the Ecole Centrale des Travaux Publiques. After a second arrest, in 1975, Fourier went to teach at the Ecole Polytechnique. In 1797, he succeeded Lagrange as chair of analysis and mechanics.

In 1798, Fourier joined Napoleon's army in its invasion of Egypt as scientific adviser. Fourier acted as an administrator as French style political institutions and administration were installed. In particular, he helped create educational facilities in Egypt and carried out archaeological explorations. While in Cairo, Fourier was among the founders of the Cairo Institute and was one of the 12 members of its mathematics division. He was also elected secretary to the Institute, a position he held during the French occupation of Egypt. After his return to France, Fourier was entrusted with the publication of the enormous mass of Egyptian materials collected during the expedition. This became the Description de l'Égypte, to which he also wrote a lengthy historical preface on the ancient civilization of Egypt. From 1802 to 1814, he was appointed administrator the Isère département. Because of his competent work as an administrator, in 1809, Napoleon made him a baron. Following Napoleon's downfall in 1815, Fourier was appointed director of the Statistical Bureau of the Seine. In 1817, he was elected to the Académie des Sciences, becoming its perpetual secretary in 1822. Because of his work in Egyptology he was elected, in 1826, to the Académie Française and the Académie de Médecine. He died on May 16, 1830, in Paris.

During the 1920s, Fourier began to analyze the question of how the Earth stays warm enough to maintain its diverse range of flora and fauna. He wondered why the heat generated by the Sun's rays does not get lost after striking and bouncing off the great oceans and landmasses of the planet. Fourier formulated a first hypothesis of global warming. According to Fourier's metaphor, the atmosphere is compared to an invisible domed container made of glass that absorbs some of the Sun's warmth and reradiates it onto the Earth's surface. Such a gigantic bell jar is formed out of clouds and invisible gases. Water vapor and other gases simulate a vault that conserves heat. Fourier described this hypothesis in the article "General Remarks on the Temperature of the Terrestrial Globe and Planetary Spaces," which was published in the Annales de chimie et de physique in 1824. The article was not well-received during Fourier's lifetime, but is now considered a first formulation of global warming.

SEE ALSo: Egypt; France; Global Warming.

BIBLIoGRAPHY. Joseph W. Goodman, Introduction to Fourier Optics. Greenwood Villane, (Roberts & Company Publishers, 2004); I. Grattan-Guinness, Joseph Fourier, 1768-1830: A Survey of his Life and Works (MIT Press, 1972); J. Herivel, Joseph Fourier, The Man and the Physicist (Oxford University Press, 1975); T.W. Körner, Fourier Analysis. (Cambridge University Press, 1989); Spencer Weart, The Discovery of Global Warming (Harvard University Press, 2004).

Luca Prono University of Nottingham

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