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Karl Weierstrass

German mathematician Karl Theodor Wilhelm Weierstrass (October 31, 1815 February 19, 1897) has been acclaime !the "ather o" mo ern analysis# as $ell as the $orl %s "oremost teacher o" a &ance mathematics' (urely Weierstrass $as one o" the )reatest mathematicians o" the nineteenth century' What is most remar*able is that he s+ent much o" his early li"e an career isolate "rom other outstan in) mathematicians $hile he tau)ht &arious sub,ects in secon ary schools' -t $asn%t until he $as about "orty that his )enius $as reco)ni.e an he secure a uni&ersity +osition' /e broa ene the un erstan in) o" the notion o" !"unction,# )a&e the mo ern , e"inition o" limit, isco&ere an a++lie uni"orm con&er)ence an )a&e a theory o" irrational numbers as series o" rationals' 0re&ious to this time i" mathematicians e"ine irrationals, they i so as limits o" se1uences o" rationals' -t $as Geor) 2antor, $ho ma e the reasonable obser&ation that irrationals must alrea y e3ist i" they $ere limits o" se1uences'

Weierstrass $as born at Osten"el e in West+halia, the el est o" "our chil ren o" Wilhelm Weierstrass, a customs o""icial' Wilhelm $as an o&erbearin) man $ho ominate the li&es o" his chil ren' /e continue to lecture Karl e&en $hen the latter $as in his "orties' Karl%s mother 4heo ora 5on er"orst ie in 1867' 7one o" Wilhelm%s chil ren e&er marrie ' -n 1869 youn) Karl entere the 2atholic Gymnasium in 0a erborn' /e e3celle at the school $hile hol in) a +art8time ,ob as a boo**ee+er to hel+ the "amily "inances' 9lthou)h Weierstrass emonstrate consi erable mathematical ability at the Gymnasium, he acce e to his "ather%s $ishes an entere the :ni&ersity o" ;onn in 183< to stu y accountin), la$, economics an "inance' ;ore $ith his courses, he sel om atten e lectures= instea ,

as re+orte by >'4' ;ell, he ! e&ote his )reat bo ily stren)th, his li)htnin) e3terity an his *een min almost e3clusi&ely to "encin) an the mello$ sociability that is in uce by ni)htly an liberal in ul)ence in honest German beer'#

/o$e&er, Weierstrass i stu y mathematics on his o$n' 9"ter "our years he returne home to his enra)e "ather $ithout a e)ree' /e ne3t enrolle at the 4heolo)ical an 0hiloso+hical 9ca emy at ?@nster to +re+are to teach in secon ary schools' /e became the stu ent o" 2hristo" Gu ermann, $ho )a&e Weierstrass +ersonal attention' Gu ermann share $ith Weierstrass his enthusiasm "or the i ea that +o$er series coul be use as a ri)orous basis "or mathematical analysis' Karl recei&e his e)ree in 1839, a"ter $ritin) a re&olutionary essay on elli+tic "unctions as +art o" his e3amination' -n 18<1 Weierstrass recei&e his teacher%s certi"icate an be)an a one8year +robation as a teacher at the Gymnasium in ?@nster'

For the ne3t "i"teen years, Weierstrass $as em+loye as a secon ary school teacher' /e $as re1uire to teach a &ariety o" courses besi es mathematics, inclu in) botany, history, +hysics, German, )eo)ra+hy, )ymnastics an +enmanshi+' Aurin) this +erio he $as cut o"" "rom the mathematical community' With no mathematical collea)ues to tal* to an no mathematics libraries to &isit, he $as on his o$n in e3+lorin) mathematical i eas' /e later escribe this +erio o" isolation as one o" !unen in) reariness an bore om'# Aurin) the ays he $as a e icate teacher e&ote to the $ell8bein) o" his stu ents, but urin) the ni)hts he +ursue the stu y o" mathematics= in +articular the $or* o" 7iels 9bel' Weierstrass $as etermine to continue 9bel%s +ioneerin) $or* an "or years i remar*able research on 9belian "unctions' /e i not iscuss his $or* $ith anyone nor submit anythin) "or +ublication' (tartin) about 185B, Weierstrass su""ere "rom e3treme &erti)o $ith s+ells lastin) "or about an hour an en in) $ith &iolent &omitin)' 4he attac*s occurre "re1uently "or the ne3t 16 years, ma*in) his alrea y eman in) $or* loa an his in e+en ent +ursuit o" mathematics all the more i""icult' -n 18C1 he

colla+se $hile lecturin) an $as unable to return to the classroom "or o&er a year' From then on, he lecture $hile seate , lea&in) any necessary blac*boar $or* to a stu ent assistant'

Weierstrass% "irst +ublication on 9belian "unctions a++eare in the ;raunsber) school +ros+ectus (18<88 <9) an $ent unnotice ' 4hen in 185< Weierstrass +ublishe a )eneral theory o" 9belian inte)rals an 9belian "unctions in Crelles Journal, early &olumes o" $hich $ere "ille $ith 9bel%s +a+ers' 4his memoir "inally brou)ht Weierstrass to the attention o" the mathematical $orl ' -n the +a+er he )a&e a +reliminary escri+tion o" metho s in&ol&in) the re+resentation o" 9belian "unctions as con&er)ent +o$er series' 4he :ni&ersity o" KDni)sber) con"erre an honorary octor%s e)ree on him on ?arch 31, 185<' 4he ne3t year Weierstrass a++lie "or the +osition &acate by Kummer at the :ni&ersity o" ;reslau, but i not )et the +osition' 9"ter bein) +romote to senior lecturer at ;raunsber), he too* a year%s lea&e o" absence $ith +ay to +ursue a &ance mathematical stu y' /e $as etermine ne&er to return to secon ary school teachin) an settle "or a chair $ith the -n ustry -nstitute in ;erlin' Finally, in 185C, he reali.e his ream $hen he $as o""ere a +ro"essorshi+ at the :ni&ersity o" ;erlin $here he remaine the rest o" his li"e' 9"ter he sto++e lecturin) at the uni&ersity, he )a&e +ri&ate lessons to +articularly talente stu ents' /is relationshi+ $ith (o"ia Ko&ale&s*aya is etaile in her entry' /e $as so e&astate by her eath at a)e <1 that he burne e&erythin) he o$ne that remin e him o" her'

Weierstrass +ublishe little, but $as "amous "or the lectures in $hich he )a&e a systematic account o" mathematical analysis base on e3tremely care"ul reasonin) that became *no$n as !Weierstrassian ri)or'# When he +ublishe his Werke in the 189Bs, he $as more concerne $ith +resentin) his metho o" e&elo+in) "unction theory than establishin) the +riority o" his results, many o" $hich ha been +ublishe by others in the meantime' Weierstrass $as a metho ical man $ho istruste "lashes o" intuition, +re"errin) to +ainsta*in)ly e&elo+ his mathematical i eas' /e +ro&e $hat is *no$n as the Weierstrass 9++ro3imation 4heorem, that is, !9ny continuous "unction o" a boun e inter&al can be

uni"ormly a++ro3imate by +olynomial "unctions'#

Weierstrass shoc*e some in the mathematical community by in&entin) ne$ "unctions that $ere so !bi.arre# that 0oincarE escribe them as ! e+lorable e&il'# For instance, it +re&iously ha been su++ose , an e&en !+ro&en# in some te3tboo*s that all continuous "unctions e3ce+t "or some isolate cases are i""erentiable' 4his belie" arose "rom limitin) "unctions to those e"ine by al)ebraic "ormulas' Weierstrass "oun countere3am+les, inclu in) a continuous "unction that is not i""erentiable at any +oint' 4his o+ene a $hole ne$ $ay o" thin*in) about "unctions' /e clari"ie the notions o" the "un amental conce+ts o" analysis, )i&in) "unction, eri&ati&e, limit, i""erentiability, an con&er)ence their "irst ri)orous e"initions' /is e3am+le o" a continuous "unction that is no$here i""erentiable isF

G f(x) H

I bncos (anx) $here b J 1 an


ab K 1 L 3 6

4he +resence o" Weierstrass an his collea)ues Meo+ol Kronec*er an >rnst Kummer )a&e the :ni&ersity o" ;erlin a re+utation as the lea in) uni&ersity at $hich to stu y mathematics' For t$enty years Kronec*er an Weierstrass $ere close "rien s, sharin) many "ruit"ul iscussions' 9 ru+ture $as +rom+te by the $or* o" Geor) 2antor' Weierstrass $as amon) the "irst to reco)ni.e the im+ortance o" 2antor%s $or* $ith trans"inite numbers an countability' ;e"ore 2antor, mathematicians acce+te the notion o" a se1uence !ten in) to in"inity,# but i not acce+t the notion o" in"inity as a number' 2antor%s )reat achie&ement $as to intro uce ,ust such a conce+t' Kronec*er, $ho i not acce+t non8 constructi&e reasonin), enounce the $or* an set himsel" the tas* !o" in&esti)atin) the error o" e&ery conclusion use in the so8calle +resent metho o" analysis'# Kronec*er $as not satis"ie $ith ma*in) 2antor%s li"e miserable an sabota)in) his career, but he also lashe out at Weierstrass' -t $as the

latter%s $or* on limits an con&er)ent se1uences o" rationals that le his stu ent 2antor to his re&olutionary theories' 4he ri"t $as so ba that, in 1885, Weierstrass eci e to lea&e ;erlin "or ($it.erlan ' /e chan)e his min $hen he reali.e that i" he le"t, Kronec*er $oul ha&e to en orse his successor' /e staye an $hen Kronec*er ie in 1891 the +ath $as cleare "or Weierstrass to be succee e by his "ormer stu ent /ermann (ch$art.' 9s a teacher, Weierstrass attracte lar)e au iences, o"ten in e3cess o" 6BB' -n 1875 he became a *ni)ht o" the or er !0our le ?Erite# in the cate)ory o" 9rts an (ciences, $hich $as the hi)hest honor that the ne$ly uni"ie German nation coul besto$' ;ecause o" "ailin) health, he retire at a)e 75, s+en in) the last "e$ years o" his li"e con"ine to a $heelchair, yin) "rom +neumonia at a)e 86'

Quotation of the Day: !-t is true that a mathematician $ho is not also somethin) o" a +oet $ill
ne&er be a +er"ect mathematician'% Karl Weierstrass