George Green bigraphy, stories - British astronomer and mathematician

George Green : biography

14 July 1793 - 31 May 1841

George Green (14 July 1793 – 31 May 1841) was a British mathematical physicist who wrote An Essay on the Application of Mathematical Analysis to the Theories of Electricity and Magnetism (Green, 1828).This 1828 essay can be found in Mathematical papers of the late George Green, edited by N. M. Ferrers. The website for this is given below.Cannell, D.M. (1999) George Green: An Enigmatic Mathematician, American Mathematical Monthly 106(2), 136–151. The essay introduced several important concepts, among them a theorem similar to the modern Green's theorem, the idea of potential functions as currently used in physics, and the concept of what are now called Green's functions. Green was the first person to create a mathematical theory of electricity and magnetism and his theory formed the foundation for the work of other scientists such as James Clerk Maxwell, William Thomson, and others. His work on potential theory ran parallel to that of Carl Friedrich Gauss.

Green's life story is remarkable in that he was almost entirely self-taught. He received only about one year of formal schooling as a child, between the ages of 8 and 9.


Early life

[[Green's Mill in Sneinton, the mill owned by Green's father. The mill was renovated in 1986 and is now a science centre.]] Green was born and lived for most of his life in the English town of Sneinton, Nottinghamshire, now part of the city of Nottingham. His father, also named George, was a baker who had built and owned a brick windmill used to grind grain.

In his youth, Green was described as having a frail constitution and a dislike for doing work in his father's bakery. He had no choice in the matter, however, and as was common for the time he likely began working daily to earn his living at the age of five.

Robert Goodacre's Academy

Roughly 25–50% of children in Nottingham received any schooling in this period. The majority of schools were Sunday schools, run by the Church, and children would typically attend for one or two years only. Recognizing the young Green's above average intellect, and being in a strong financial situation due to his successful bakery, his father enrolled him in March 1801 at Robert Goodacre's Academy in Upper Parliament Street. Robert Goodacre was a well-known science populariser and educator of the time. He published Essay on the Education of Youth, in which he wrote that he did not "study the interest of the boy but the embryo Man". To a non-specialist, he would have seemed deeply knowledgeable in science and maths, but a close inspection of his essay and curriculum revealed that the extent of his mathematical teachings was limited to algebra, trigonometry and logarithms. Thus, Green's later mathematical contributions, which exhibited knowledge of very modern developments in maths, could not have resulted from his tenure at the Robert Goodacre Academy. He stayed for only four terms (one school year), and it was speculated by his contemporaries that he probably exhausted all they had to teach him.

Move from Nottingham to Sneinton

In 1773 George's father moved to Nottingham, which at the time had a reputation for being a pleasant town with open spaces and wide roads. By 1831, however, the population had increased nearly five times, in part due to the budding industrial revolution, and the city became known as one of the worst slums in England. There were frequent riots by starving workers, often associated with special hostility towards bakers and millers on the suspicion that they were hiding grain to drive up food prices.

For these reasons, in 1807, George Green senior bought a plot of land in Sneinton, a small town about a mile away from Nottingham. On this plot of land he built a "brick wind corn mill", now famously referred to as Green's Windmill. It was technologically impressive for its time, but required nearly twenty-four hour maintenance, which was to become George Green's burden for the next twenty years.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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