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Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon

Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de BuffonAKA Georges-Louis Leclerc

Born: 7-Sep-1707
Birthplace: Montbard, France
Died: 16-Apr-1788
Location of death: Paris, France
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Religion: Christian
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Naturalist

Nationality: France
Executive summary: Histoire Naturelle

Named Georges-Louis Leclerc at birth, he became Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon when he was about ten years old, as his mother inherited a sizable estate and his father became Lord of Buffon and Montbard. The family had already been modestly wealthy and Buffon's education was never lacking, but after receiving their inheritance they moved into a mansion in Dijon and Buffon's father became an advisor to the Burgundian parliament.

He studied law and mathematics at the College des Godrans, a Jesuit institute in Dijon, where in 1727 he discovered the binomial theorem, the formula for finding any power of a binomial (two terms connected by + or -) without needing to multiply numbers at length. He proposed a theory postulating that the planets of our solar system were created when a comet collided with the Sun. While this seems nonsensical now, it is important historically, as the first theory of creation stated scientifically, without an omnipotent God to set things in motion, and obedient to the laws of physics as understood at the time. From 1739 until his death he was the administrator of the Jardin des Plantes, France's finest botanical garden. In 1777 he conducted a famous experiment on probability, now called Buffon's Needle, wherein a needle is dropped on a lined floor or paper — the probability of the needle crossing one of the lines is directly related to the value of pi.

He studied astronomy, physics, plant physiology, and ship construction, and questioned the dogma of his era in almost every area of science. His writings spanned from South American bats to the cause of strabismus (crossed eyes) to an elaborate albeit erroneous inter-species genealogical tree. From 1749 to 1786 he wrote 36 volumes of Histoire Naturelle, Générale et Particulière (Natural History, General and Particular), intended as an encyclopedia of all knowledge.

Though undoubtedly among the greatest scientists of his time Buffon was not held in high regard among his peers, for in attempting to summarize all scientific knowledge he challenged the authority of biologists, chemists, geologists, other mathematicians, and especially the theologians. He felt it beneath his dignity to respond to criticisms, explaining in a letter to a friend, "I shall keep absolute silence ... and let their attacks fall upon themselves". He also translated Isaac Newton's Fluxions and Stephen Hales's Vegetable Staticks into French.

Father: Benjamin-François Leclerc (Lord of Dijon and Montbard)
Mother: Anne-Cristine Marlin
Wife: Françoise de Saint-Belin-Malain (m. 1752, d. 1769, one son)
Son: (b. 1764, d. 1794 guillotine)

    High School: College des Godrans, Dijon, France
    University: Angers University

    French Academy of Sciences 1734
    French Academy 1753
    Royal Society of Edinburgh (Fellow) 1783
    Jardin des Plantes (Administrator) 1739-88
    Life Peerage as Count de Buffon by Louis XV (1773)
    Duel 1730
    French Ancestry
    Lunar Crater Buffon (40.4° S, 133.4° W, 106 km. diameter)

Author of books:
Histoire Naturelle, Générale et Particulière (1749-88, 36 vols.)
Les Époques de la Nature (1778)
Oeuvres Complètes de Buffon (1853-55, 12 vol.)


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