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Who was Evariste Galois?

Updated on December 2, 2016

Evariste Galois (1811-1832) was a French mathematician, born at Bourg-la-Reine, near Paris. In early 1829, while still at school, Galois solved what was then one of the most difficult and important problems in mathematics, by proving that it is not possible to give a procedure for solving polynomial equations of the fifth degree in a finite number of steps using only addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and evaluation of radicals.

In May 1829, Galois presented a memoir containing his proof to the Academic des Sciences but A. L. Cauchy advised him that N. H. Abel (who had just died) had proved this result in 1824. However, Galois' proof was strikingly original and pointed the way to new areas of research, especially in the theory of groups. Galois then suffered two misfortunes: his father, a schoolmaster, committed suicide in July 1829 following persecution for his liberal beliefs, and the following month Evariste failed the entrance examination for the Ecole polytechnique because he did not use the method of exposition suggested by the examiner.

He entered the Ecole normale superieure (which had a lower status than the Polytechnique), revised his memoir on equations and presented it to the Academic in February 1830 as an entry for a prize competition. J. B. J. Fourier was to judge the entries but died, and Galois' manuscript was lost. Galois took part in Republican demonstrations and riots following the July 1830 Revolution. He again presented his memoir to the Academic but S. D. Poisson dismissed it as either unintelligible or already discovered by Abel.

Galois was arrested for his political activities on 14 July 1831 and spent the rest of his life either in jail or in a prison hospital. On 30 May 1832 he fought a duel with an unknown adversary for an unknown cause and was mortally wounded.


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