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Benjamin Peirce

Born: 4-Apr-1809
Birthplace: Salem, MA
Died: 10-Jun-1880
Location of death: Cambridge, MA
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Religion: Christian
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Mathematician, Astronomer

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Idempotent and nilpotent

Benjamin Peirce was mentored from childhood by Nathaniel Bowditch, and became one of the most respected mathematicians and astronomers of the 19th century. He was a faculty member at Harvard for nearly fifty years, during which time the school evolved from a regional college into an institute of national stature, in no small part due to Peirce. He coined the algebraic terms idempotent and nilpotent, and his mathematical works included a paper establishing that no odd perfect number could have fewer than four prime factors.

He co-founded the National Academy of Sciences, Harvard's Lawrence Scientific School, and the Harvard College Observatory. He then lobbied Harvard's administration for purchase of a bigger, better telescope which, when installed, was used to discover Neptune in 1846. He used mathematical calculations to accurately predict the paths of comets, phases of the moon, Neptune's orbit, and that planet's effect on the orbit of Uranus and on the other planets. During a three-year stint as Superintendent of the US Coast Survey, he oversaw production of a map of the United States, and organized expeditions to Alaska, the Chatham Islands, Nagasaki, and Sicily.

Peirce was briefly teased in a poem by classmate Oliver Wendell Holmes as "That boy with the grave mathematical look / made believe he had written a wonderful book". Peirce's brother-in-law was US Senator Henry Cabot Lodge.

Father: Benjamin Peirce (Harvard librarian, b. 30-Sep-1778, d. 30-Jul-1831)
Mother: Lydia Ropes Nichols Peirce (b. 3-Jan-1781, m. 11-Dec-1803, d. Nov-1868)
Sister: Charlotte Elizabeth Peirce ("Lizzie", b. 9-Nov-1804, d. 1888)
Brother: John Nichols Peirce (b. 18-Sep-1805, d. 5-Oct-1810)
Brother: Charles Henry Peirce (physician, b. 28-Apr-1814, d. 16-Jun-1855)
Wife: Sarah Hunt Mills (b. 1808, m. 23-Jul-1833, d. 1887, four sons, one daughter)
Son: James Mills Peirce (Harvard professor , b. 1834, d. 1906)
Son: Charles Sanders Peirce (philosopher , b. 10-Sep-1839, d. 19-Apr-1914)
Son: Benjamin Mills Peirce (mining engineer, b. 1844, d. 1870)
Daughter: Helen Huntington Peirce Ellis (b. 1845)
Son: Herbert Henry Davis Peirce (diplomat, b. 1849, d. 1916)

    High School: Salem Private Grammar School, Salem, MA
    University: BA Mathematics, Harvard University (1829)
    Teacher: Round Hill School, Northampton, MA (1829-31)
    Teacher: Mathematics, Harvard University (1831-33)
    University: MA Mathematics, Harvard University (1833)
    Professor: Mathematics and Natural Philosophy, Harvard University (1833-42)
    Professor: Mathematics and Astronomy, Harvard University (1842-88)

    American Association for the Advancement of Science Co-Founder (1847) and President (1853)
    American Philosophical Society
    National Academy of Sciences Co-Founder (1863)
    Royal Astronomical Society
    Royal Society
    Royal Society of Edinburgh
    US Coast Survey Superintendant (1867-70)
    English Ancestry

Author of books:
Plane Trigonometry (1835)
Spherical Trigonometry (1836)
Treatise on Sound (1836)
Plane and Solid Geometry (1837)
An Elementary Treatise on Algebra (1837)
An Elementary Treatise on Plane and Solid Geometry (1837)
An Elementary Treatise on Plane and Spherical Trigonometry (1840)
An Elementary Treatise on Curves, Functions, and Forces (1846, two volumes)
A System of Analytic Mechanics (1855)
Physical and Celestial Mathematics (1855)
Tables of the Moon (1865)
Linear Associative Algebra (1870)
Ideality in the Physical Sciences (1881, posthumous)


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