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Profile of the Day: Émilie du Châtelet

On this day in 1706, French mathematician Émilie du Châtelet was born.

Image: Émilie du Châtelet / Wikimedia Commons

Du Châtelet was born Garbielle Émilie le Tonnelier de Breteuil on December 17, 1706 in Paris, France. Her father, Louis Nicolas le Tonnelier de Breteuil, was a member of the lesser nobility. He held a weekly salon, to which well-respected writers and scientists were often invited. An intelligent child, du Châtelet’s father brought in tutors to teach her about mathematics and astronomy. By the age of twelve, she was fluent in Latin, German, Italian, and Greek.

In 1725, she married the Marquis Florent-Claude du Chastellet-Lomont and her educational pursuits ceased for a time. Then in 1733, du Châtelet passionately dove back into her studies and sought to bring some of France’s best tutors and scholars to mentor her in mathematics. Around this same time, she met the renowned philosopher Voltaire. The two not only collaborated scientifically, but also engaged in an affair over many years. In 1738, the pair published Elements of the Philosophy of Newton under Voltaire’s name.

In 1740, du Châtelet anonymously published her magnum opus The Foundations of Physics, which combined Newton’s physics and metaphysics, along with the thoughts of other great minds of the time. She had originally created the book in order to teach physics to her son. Perhaps her most recognized achievement is her translation and commentary on Isaac Newton’s 1687 book Principia. Her translation was published posthumously and is considered to be the standard French translation to this day.

Du Châtelet died on September 10, 1749 about a week after giving birth to her daughter. She was 42.

Explore Émilie du Châtelet’s family tree on Geni and share how you’re connected to the French mathematician.

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The post Profile of the Day: Émilie du Châtelet first appeared on The Geni Blog.


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