John Napier

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John Napier

John Napier (1550April 4, 1617) was a Scottish mathematician and astrologer. He is most remembered as the inventor of natural logarithms, of Napier's bones or Napier's rods and for popularizing the decimal point. He was born in Merchiston Tower, Edinburgh. Although he did not invent the natural logarithm function, it is sometimes known as the Napierian Logarithm.

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John Napier

Napier is relatively little known outside mathematical circles where he made what is undoubtedly an extremely important advance in the history of mathematics. Logarithms made calculations by hand much easier and thereby opened the way to many later scientific advances. His work, Mirifici Logarithmorum Canonis Descriptio, contained thirty-seven pages of explanatory matter and ninety pages of tables, which facilitated the furtherment of astronomy/astrology, dynamics and physics.

"A number of "secret inventions" were described by his contemporaries, including a round chariot that was an early version of a tank, giant mirrors which could burn the sails of enemy ships, a submarine and an artillery piece that could apparently destroy a whole field of soldiers."

Napier's powers of invention were not confined to logarithms. He published a small treatise on a simple way to perform multiplication, the Rabdologiae, introducing a calculating device which became known as Napier's Rods or Napier's Bones. In an appendix he explained another method of multiplication and division using metal plates, which is one of the earliest known attempts at a mechanical means of calculation.

Another useful idea of his is Neper's circle (sometimes called Neper's pentagon), a mnemonic for spherical trigonometry.

He is buried in St Cuthbert's Church, Edinburgh. He was the father of Robert Napier.

A unit used in telecommunication, the neper, is named after John Napier, as is Napier University in Edinburgh.

External links

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