Mathematician of the week: Louis Antoine de Bougainville


Louis Antoine de Bougainville was born November 11, 1729, and died August 31, 1811. While his mathematical contributions were modest, he has surprisingly strong name-recognition for an eighteenth-century mathematician…

By 1756, Bougainville had published two volumes on the integral calculus, explicitly presented as a supplement to and extension of L’Hopital’s Analyse des infiniment petits pour l’intelligence des lignes courbes (published in 1696, the first textbook on the differential calculus). Bougainville’s work earned significant praise, including Bougainville’s election to membership in the Royal Society of London. However, this publication also marked the end of Bougainville’s mathematical career.

After joining the French Army in 1754, Bougainville served with some distinction in the French and Indian war. By the early 1760s, Bougainville had joined the French Navy. In 1764, he establishing the first European settlement on the Falkland Islands (Port St. Louis), and during 1766 – 1769, he became the 14th known Western navigator, and first Frenchman, to circumnavigate the globe. During that voyage, his ships came upon the heavy breakers of the Great Barrier Reef, and turned away to the north, toward the Solomon Islands. (Bougainville thus narrowly avoided sailing upon Australia, some three years before James Cook’s expedition which claimed New South Wales for Great Britain.) Bougainville Island (politically part of Paupa New Guinea) was apparently named by Bougainville during this voyage.

The flowering vine bougainvillea is also named for Louis Antoine de Bougainville. A plant native to South America, Bougainville wrote extensively about it for European readers following his circumnavigatory voyage.

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