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Augustus De Morgan

picture of Augustus De Morgan

Augustus De Morgan was a brilliant mathematician, famous for his advances in algebra and logic.

He was born in Madura, India on June 27 1806, the son of John De Morgan who was a colonel in the East India Company army. At birth he lost the sight of his right eye. When he was 7 months old his family returned to England, living initially in Worcestershire but later in Devon and Somerset. He showed a precocious talent as a musician, playing the flute from an early age. At the age of 16 he entered Trinity College, Cambridge and graduated 4 years later.

After considering various professions he chose to become a mathematician. In 1927 he was successful in his application for the chair of mathematics at the newly founded University College, London and the following year was appointed first Professor of Mathematics. In 1831 he resigned on a matter of principle after a fellow professor was fired without explanation but was re-appointed in 1836 and held this position until 1866 when he again resigned on principle. In 1837 he married Sophia Frend who was a writer and daughter of another distinguished mathematician - Wilpicture of book entitled calculusliam Frend.

He was a prolific writer and wrote thousands of books and articles on mathematics, logic, philosophy and various other subjects. He created various mathematical and logic 'laws' which are named after him and he introduced the term 'mathematical induction'. Along with George Boole he developed the principles of Boolean algebra which is widely used in computer software today. He also devised a decimal coinage system, an almanac of all full moons from 2000 B.C. to 2000 A.D. and a theory on the probability of life events which is still used by insurance actuaries.

He was a friend of Charles Babbage who invented the Analytical Engine, the forerunner of today's computer, and he was the tutor of Ada Lovelace (daughter of Lord Byron) who became the first world's first programmer by writing a program for Babbage's machine. The programming language Ada is named after her.

He was also one of the first British academics to investigate the phenomena of Spiritualism and became convinced that it was a genuine occurrence. "I am perfectly convinced", said De Morgan in the Preface of his wife's book 'From Matter to Spirit', "that I have both seen and heard, in a manner which should make unbelief impossible, things called spiritual which cannot be taken by a rational being to be capable of explanation by imposture, coincidence or mistake."

In 1866 he founded the London Mathematical Society and became its first president. Also that year he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. He died in London in 1871. His personal library of over 3000 books was donated to the London University library.