We will dedicate this article to better understand his life through a biography of Christiaan Huygens , from his childhood and training to the great milestones of his career as a scientist. Likewise, we will discover some of the contributions that this author made during his many years as a scientist.
Short Biography of Christiaan Huygens
Christiaan Huygens was born in 1629 in The Hague, at that time belonging to the Dutch Republic . As the son of a wealthy family, he did not experience any financial difficulties throughout his childhood. His father was an important diplomat, under the command of the Dutch monarchy. In addition, he also cultivated different arts, such as writing and music. He was associated with some of the greatest intellectuals of the time.
Among his close circle were historical figures of the stature of René Descartes, Galileo Galilei or Marin Mersenne, a sample of the distinguished and erudite atmosphere that reigned in the house of Christiaan Huygens. As for his mother, a famous poet, he had five children, Christiaan being the second of them, and died as a result of complications during the delivery of his last daughter.
The education of little Christiaan Huygens, up to his sixteen years, took place in his home. Constantinj, his father, saw to it that he received an exquisite, liberal training that included the learning of different languages, mathematics, history, the arts, and some branches of philosophy, such as logic and rhetoric. Likewise, physical aptitudes were not neglected, so he also rode horseback, practiced fencing and also dance. Christiaan Huygens biography
Some of Christiaan Huygens’s tutors were Descartes himself, who was amazed at the ease with which the student understood the complex concepts of geometry, and also Jan Jansz de Jonge Stampioen, one of the most brilliant Dutch mathematicians.
From the age of sixteen, his training continued at the University of Leiden, where he learned mathematics and law . The mathematician Frans van Schooten was one of the tutors of Christiaan Huygens. After two years he moved to Orange College in Breda to complete his law studies.
Youth and career as a scientist
At the end of his training, he did diplomatic work for the Duke of Nassau, Louis Henry, which allowed him to travel to different northern European regions. However, he was not destined to continue in his father’s footsteps as a diplomat. What Christian really liked was science . This was witnessed by Mersenne, who told his father that the boy had Archimedes’ own talent for mathematics.
Christiaan Huygens corresponded like Mersenne to work together on different mathematical problems, such as those concerning the creation of suspension bridges or the squaring of the circle. Mersenne had proposed other objects of study that, at the time, were not of interest to Huygens, but would be in the future. Some examples are the vibrating string, the cycloid, or the gravitational constant.
For the year 1654, Christiaan decided to return to the family home, in The Hague, in order to devote himself completely to the study of science . Despite the fact that Mersenne had already died, Christiaan Huygens continued to correspond with other authors related to him, although the wars suffered by this territory at that time sometimes made it difficult to receive the letters.
In 1655 he decided to travel to Paris to meet with some of these authors, such as Ismael Boulliau or Claude Mylon. This allowed him to establish contact, first with Pierre de Carcavi and then with Pierre de Fermat, one of the most brilliant mathematicians in history. However, they did not reach great meeting points, since Fermat was focused on theoretical questions and Huygens looked for more practical applications in his studies. Christiaan Huygens biography
Finally, in the year 1651, Christiaan Huygens published what would be his first work, Theoremata de quadratura . Thanks to this publication and to the correction of some errors in the work of Thomas Hobbes, Huygens began to be a well-known name in all the scientific circles of Europe.
Interest in astronomy and other sciences
Christiaan then began to be interested in the optics of spherical lenses, and this study eventually materialized in the so-called Huygenian eyepiece. This theme put him in contact with another of the great minds of his time: Baruch Spinoza. Likewise, he was very interested in the contributions to this field of Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, another Dutch scientist who also studied and created lenses.
Another topic that attracted the interest of Christiaan Huygens was that of probability . His work De ratiociniis in ludo aleae focuses on the probabilistic explanations behind the most popular games of chance. In creating this volume, he was influenced by the work of other authors such as Girard Desargues and Blaise Pascal. Likewise, he worked on the work of John Graunt, father of demography, to translate life expectancy mathematically.
In 1661 the astronomical phenomenon of the solar transit of Mercury took place. Christiaan Huygens witnessed this event and debated with other authors about it. Also at that time, Huygens published some articles related to music, a discipline in which he also excelled, especially playing the harpsichord .
The circle of authors formerly directed by Mesenne, was renamed the Montmor Academy, as it was directed by Henri Louis Habert de Montmor. Christiaan Huygens was one of its most active members, and supported a schism created in this association in which experimental demonstration was sought in the sciences they practiced. This discussion led to the closure of the group. Christiaan Huygens biography
However, his participation in the circle made him change his residence to Paris, which earned him access to the French Academy of Sciences . It was sponsored by Jean-Baptiste Colbert. At the same time, he also belonged to the London Royal Society, which shows the enormous importance that this author already had internationally.
In his role as an inventor, he studied how to create an engine based on the explosion of gunpowder , which although it did not materialize as a reality, undoubtedly represented a huge innovation for the time. Christiaan Huygens also excelled in the design and construction of complex clocks, especially pendulum clocks, which guaranteed great precision.
Regarding the field of astronomy, one of his great contributions was the study of the rings of Saturn as well as one of its moons, Titan. He was also able to make observations of the Orion Nebula. As for Mars, he was able to map some of its regions, such as the Syrtis Major plain, on the red planet.
He was also able to calculate the duration of the rotational movement of this planet , that is, how long a day lasts, which he put at 24 hours and 30 minutes, missing only the seven more minutes it actually has. As ahead of her time, Christiaan Huygens even wrote about the possibility of the existence of life elsewhere in the universe, a controversial topic for its impact on reigning religious beliefs in times past.
For Huygens, this possibility did not pose a problem with regard to the scriptures of the Bible, since he affirmed that this option was not affirmed but neither was this option denied, and that if it were the case, God would have placed us at a sufficient distance as so that we couldn’t come into contact with each other. Although he was scientifically minded, it is observed that he tried to adapt his reasoning to the religious theses. Christiaan Huygens biography
Christiaan Huygens also studied different stars and even made calculations about the distance and luminosity of some of them , such as Sirius, although they were not precise, since this discipline would still take many years to reach maturity.
He is also considered the first of the theoretical physicists and also the main promoter of what would later become mathematical physics as we know it today.
During her years living in Paris, Christiaan Huygens met Gottfried Leibniz , with whom she also began to correspond and tutored him in mathematical and geometric matters. Leibniz was working on an infinitesimal calculus system, but Huygens did not seem to appreciate it.
In 1681, affected by a serious depression, he decided to return to his hometown, The Hague. Shortly afterwards he visited London, where he was able to meet Isaac Newton , one of the greatest physicists in the history of mankind.
Christiaan Huygens ended her days in The Hague, without having started a family, in the year 1695. Her body rests in an unnamed grave in the church of Saint James. Christiaan Huygens biography