3-2016 The revolutionary mathematician

Évariste Galois (French: (25 October 1811 – 31 May 1832) was a French mathematician born in Bourg-la-Reine. While still in his teens, he was able to determine a necessary and sufficient condition for a polynomial to be solvable by radicals, thereby solving a problem standing for 350 years. His work laid the foundations for Galois theory and group theory, two major branches of abstract algebra, and the subfield of Galois connections. He died at age 20 from wounds suffered in a duel.

Galois was also a political firebrand. He was even jailed several times for his anti-royalty activities. On Bastille Day of 1831 (14 July), Galois was at the head of a protest, wearing the uniform of the disbanded artillery, and came heavily armed with several pistols, a rifle, and a dagger. He was again arrested. On 23 October he was sentenced to six months in prison for illegally wearing a uniform. He was released on 29 April 1832. Fortunately for all, during his imprisonment, he continued developing his mathematical ideas.

Tragedy was to strike Galois, for in July 1829 his father committed suicide. The priest of Bourg-la-Reine forged Mayor Galois' name on malicious forged epigrams directed at Galois' own relatives. Galois' father was a good natured man and the scandal that ensued was more than he could stand. He hanged himself in his Paris apartment only a few steps from Louis-le-Grand where his son was studying. Galois was deeply affected by his father's death and it greatly influenced the direction his life was to take.

Siméon Poisson, a French mathematician, geometer, and physicist. asked him to submit his work on the theory of equations, which he did on 17 January 1831. Around 4 July 1831, Poisson declared Galois's work "incomprehensible", declaring that "[Galois's] argument is neither sufficiently clear nor sufficiently developed to allow us to judge its rigor"; however, the rejection report ends on an encouraging note: "We would then suggest that the author should publish the whole of his work in order to form a definitive opinion."Galois did not ignore Poisson's advice, as he began collecting all his mathematical manuscripts while still in prison, and continued polishing his ideas until his release on 29 April 1832.

Galois's fatal duel took place on 30 May 1832. The true motives behind the duel are obscure. There has been much speculation, as to the reasons behind it. What is known is that five days before his death, he wrote a letter to Chevalier which clearly alludes to a broken love affair.

In March 1832 a cholera epidemic swept Paris, and prisoners, including Galois, were transferred to the Sieur Faultrier hostel. There he apparently fell in love with Stephanie-Felice du Motel, the daughter of the resident physician. After he was released on 29 April Galois exchanged letters with Stephanie, and it is clear that she tried to distance herself from the affair. The name Stephanie appears several times as a marginal note in one of Galois' manuscripts. Galois fought a duel with Perscheux d'Herbinville on 30 May, the reason for the duel not being clear but certainly linked with Stephanie.

Galois was wounded in the duel and was abandoned by d'Herbinville and his own seconds and found by a peasant. He died in Cochin hospital on 31 May and his funeral was held on 2 June.

Detailed speculation, based on scant historical details, has been interpolated by many of Galois's biographers (most notably by Eric Temple Bell in Men of Mathematics), that the entire incident was stage-managed by the police and royalist factions to eliminate a political enemy.

MORAL OF THE STORY: If you are an algebraist, do not indulge in fencing.

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