Nikolai Lobachevsky

Nikolai Lobachevsky bigraphy, stories - Russian mathematician

Nikolai Lobachevsky : biography

December 1, 1792 – February 24, 1856

Nikolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky () (December 1, 1792 – February 24, 1856 (N.S.); November 20, 1792 – February 12, 1856 (O.S.)) was a Russian mathematician and geometer, known primarily for his work on hyperbolic geometry, otherwise known as Lobachevskian geometry. William Kingdon Clifford called Lobachevsky the "Copernicus of Geometry" due to the revolutionary character of his work. Author attributes this quote to another mathematician, William Kingdon Clifford.This is a quote from G. B. Halsted’s translator’s preface to his 1914 translation of The Theory of Parallels: "What Vesalius was to Galen, what Copernicus was to Ptolemy that was Lobachevsky to Euclid. – W. K. Clifford


Nikolai Lobachevsky was born in Makariev near Nizhny Novgorod (Russia) in 1792 to parents of Polish origin – Ivan Maksimovich Lobachevsky and Praskovia Alexandrovna Lobachevskaya.Victor J. Katz. A history of mathematics: Introduction. Addison-Wesley. 2009. p. 842.Stephen Hawking. God Created the Integers: The Mathematical Breakthroughs that Changed History. Running Press. 2007. pp. 697-703.Ivan Maksimovich Lobachevsky (Jan Łobaczewski in Polish) came from a Polish noble family of Jastrzębiec and Łada coats of arms, and was classified as a Pole in Russian official documents; Jan Ciechanowicz. Mikołaj Łobaczewski – twórca pangeometrii. Rocznik Wschodni. Issue 7-9. 2002. p. 163. He was one of three children. His father, a clerk in a land surveying office, died when he was seven, and his mother moved to Kazan. Lobachevsky attended Kazan Gymnasium from 1802, graduating in 1807 and then received a scholarship to Kazan University, which was founded just three years earlier in 1804.

At Kazan University, Lobachevsky was influenced by professor Johann Christian Martin Bartels, a former teacher and friend of German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss. Lobachevsky received a Master’s degree in physics and mathematics in 1811. In 1814, he became a lecturer at Kazan University, in 1816 he was promoted to associate professor, and in 1822, at the age of 30, he became a full professor, teaching mathematics, physics, and astronomy. He served in many administrative positions and became the rector of Kazan University in 1827. In 1832, he married Varvara Alexeyevna Moiseyeva. They had a large number of children (eighteen according to his son’s memoirs, while only seven apparently survived into adulthood). He was dismissed from the university in 1846, ostensibly due to his deteriorating health: by the early 1850s, he was nearly blind and unable to walk. He died in poverty in 1856.

In popular culture

  • Lobachevsky is the subject of songwriter/mathematician Tom Lehrer’s humorous song "Lobachevsky" from his Songs by Tom Lehrer album. In the song, Lehrer portrays a Russian mathematician who sings about how Lobachevsky influenced him: "And who made me a big success / and brought me wealth and fame? / Nikolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky is his name." Lobachevsky’s secret to mathematical success is given as "Plagiarize!", as long as one is always careful to "call it, please, research". According to Lehrer, the song is "not intended as a slur on [Lobachevsky’s] character" and the name was chosen "solely for prosodic reasons".Liner notes, "The Tom Lehrer Collection", Shout! Factory, 2010
  • In Poul Anderson’s 1969 fantasy novella "Operation Changeling" – which was later expanded into the fix-up novel Operation Chaos (1971) – a group of sorcerers navigate a non-Euclidean universe with the assistance of the ghosts of Lobachevsky and Bolyai. The story also contains the line, "Nikolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky is his name," possibly a nod to the Tom Lehrer song.
  • Roger Zelazny’s science fiction novel Doorways in the Sand contains a poem dedicated to Lobachevsky.
  • 1858 Lobachevsk, an asteroid discovered in 1972, was named in his honour.