Jennifer Coopersmith

in The Lazy Universe

Published in print May 2017 | ISBN: 9780198743040
Published online June 2017 | e-ISBN: 9780191802966 | DOI:

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Early ideas about optimization principles were brought in by an eclectic group of extraordinary thinkers: the Ancients (Hero, and Princess Dido), Fermat with his Principle of Least Time, the Bernoullis, Leibniz, Maupertuis, Euler, and d’Alembert. Also, Stevin was the first to invoke the impossibility of perpetual motion in a proof, and Huygens was the first to put Galilean Relativity to a quantitative test. The Swiss family of mathematical geniuses, the Bernoullis, tackled isoperimetric problems, such as the brachystochrone, and Johann Bernoulli discovered the Principle of Virtual Velocities. The flavour of the eighteenth century is shown in the evocative tale of the König affair, and the correspondence between Daniel Bernoulli and Euler. It is shown how symmetry arguments, leading ultimately to an energy-analysis, were competing with Newton’s force-analysis. The Principle of Least Action and Variational Mechanics, proper, were developed by Lagrange, Hamilton, and Jacobi.

Keywords: optimization; Maupertuis; brachystochrone; Least Time; Euler; Leibniz; Bernoullis; Fermat; Stevin; isoperimetric

Chapter.  6750 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Astronomy and Astrophysics ; History of Science and Technology

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