Archive for August 3rd, 2008

Mathematician of the Week: Théodore Olivier

August 3, 2008

Théodore Olivier was born January 21, 1793, and died on August 5, 1853.  He was a student of Gaspard Monge, and indeed Monge’s influence seems apparent in Olivier’s most famous work: his models of the intersections of  three dimensional surfaces.  Olivier used strings arranged on a metal framework to model each individual surface.  As the surfaces move relative to one another, the strings allow one to study the curve where the two surfaces intersect.  (Monge had constructed static models depicting such intersections; by changing materials Olivier had a pedagogic breakthrough.)

Union College has a large collection of these models, and has created a web page devoted to their collection and its history.  One of their computer science students [now alumnus], Mike Pinch, created software to simulate the models, and give the user the opportunity to manipulate the models.  Union also has posted several .avi videos of this software in action.