Joseph Proust: Invisible Hand of Creator


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On 05 July 1826, Joseph-Louis Proust (1754–1826) passed away in Angers, France.

From the Encyclopædia Britannica (2016):

“The essence of Proust’s law is that chemical substances only truly combine to form a small number of compounds, each of which is characterized by components that combine in fixed proportions by weight… Although the statements of the law that attracted the attention of European chemists first appeared in French journals starting in 1797, Proust had formulated the law by 1793 and published it by 1795 in Spanish journals. Proust’s law of definite proportion had precursors in 18th-century chemistry and a parallel in 18th-century French mineralogy. Contemporary with Proust’s formulation was the doctrine of fixed mineral species in French mineralogy, which was defined in terms of fixed crystal form and constant chemical composition.

“What eventually settled the dispute in Proust’s favour was the impact of the chemical atomic theory (1801) of the English chemist John Dalton (1766–1844). Dalton’s atomic theory provided a simple theoretical underpinning for the law of definite proportions, especially after the Swedish chemist Jöns Jacob Berzelius established the conceptual relationship between Proust’s law and Dalton’s theory in 1811.”

Quote from Joseph Proust (Annales of Chimie, Vol.32, 1799, p.26): “We must recognize an invisible hand which holds the balance in the formation of compounds. A compound is a substance to which Nature assigns fixed ratios, it is, in short, a being which Nature never creates other than balance in hand, pondere et mensura.

Referenced: — Mauskopf, Seymour H. “Joseph-Louis Proust.” Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016. — “Law of multiple proportions.” Wikipedia.— “Law of reciprocal proportions.” Wikipedia. —Gaither, Carl C. Gaither’s Dictionary of Scientific Quotations. (New York, NY: Springer, 2012), 276. Image: © Grupo Editorial Raf.


Peter Guthrie Tait: Unseen Universe


On 04 July 1901, Peter Guthrie Tait (1831–1901) died. He was a mathematical physicist known for his research on ‘knot theory’ and graph theory (Tait’s disproven conjecture stated that every 3-connected planar cubic graph had a path that passed through each vertex point only once), as well as additional mathematical research on quaternions, a number system that extends the complex number into three dimensions. These are defined as:tait 1

with the property:

tait 2.png

Many years later (1924), it was found in quantum mechanics that the spin state of electrons depends on the properties of quaternions. This research was published by Wolfgang Ernst Pauli (1900–1958).

Tait also researched the properties of the ozone layer and diatomic molecules in the presence of electrical discharge. He was the author of Elementary Treatise on Quaternions (1867), Treatise on Natural Philosophy, co-authored with Lord Kelvin (1824–1907) and Introduction to Quaternions (1873).

His book, The Unseen Universe: Or, Physical Speculations on a Future State (1875), co-authored with Balfour Stewart (1828–1887), had evinced his belief in the infinite divisibility of the continuum—“Indeed we are entire believers in the infinite depth of nature… To our minds it appears no less false to pronounce eternal that aggregation we call the atom, than it would be to pronounce eternal that aggregation we call the Sun. All this follows from the principle of Continuity, in virtue of which we make scientific progress in the knowledge of things and which leads us, whatever state of things we contemplate, to look for its antecedent in some previous state of things also in the Universe.” The quoted text above is from pages xiv-xv.

Stewart, Balfour and P.G. Tait. The Unseen Universe: Or, Physical Speculations on a Future State. (London, GB: MacMillan & Co., 1875), xiv-xv. Image: ART UK, Cambridge.

Christopher Grienberger: a nearly unknown Austrian Jesuit and mathematician


“I have benefited, my Reader, from the mind and industry of the very learned and exceedingly modest man, Grienberger, who, while he would have discovered many marvellous things by himself, preferred to make himself serviceable to other people’s inventions and other people’s praises”. – Bettini, Apiaria Universae Philosophiae Mathematicae [1]

Christopher Grienberger (02 July 1561 – 11 March 1636) was an Austrian mathematician, astronomer, and Jesuit priest. He joined the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in 1580. Grienberger studied in Prague and Vienna and succeeded his tutor, Christopher Clavius, as a professor of mathematics at the Roman College. Grienberger gave lectures in astronomy in order to prepare fellow Jesuits for their missionary work in China (Johann Adam Schall von Bell, among others)

Grienberger_-_Catalogus_veteres_affixarum_longitudines,_ac_latitudines_conferens_cum_novis,_1612_-_167656He authored mathematical and astronomical works, among them a catalogue of the astronomical coordinates of the fixed stars known at the time (Catalogus veteres affixarum stellarum longitudines et latitudines cum novis stellis collatas continens, 1612). Grienberger sympathized with Galileo’s theory of motion but was told to defend the Aristotelian view by the Father General of the Jesuits, Claudio Aquaviva, as we read in the Biographical Encyclopedia from Astronomers:

A correspondent of Galilei, Grienberger was a strong supporter of the Copernican system and offers a good example of the dilemma of Jesuit scientists. He was convinced of the correctness of Galilei’s heliocentric teachings as well as the mistakes in Aristotle’s doctrines on motion. But because of the rigid decree of his Jesuit superior general, Claudius Aquaviva, obliging Jesuits to teach only Aristotelian physics, he was unable to openly teach the Copernican theory. He expressed disgust at the Church’s treatment of Galilei, but he also stated that if Galilei had heeded the advice of Jesuits and proposed his teachings as hypotheses, he could have written on any subject he wished, including the two motions of the Earth. [2]

[1] see Michael John Gorman, “Mathematics and Modesty in the Society of Jesus: the Problems of Christoph Grienberger (1561-1636)”
[2]  Joseph F. MacDonnell, “Grienberger, Christopher“, in: Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers (Editor-in-chief: Hockey, Thomas; Trimble, V., Williams, Th.R., Bracher, K., Jarrell, R., Marché, J.D., Ragep, F.J. (Eds.)), 2007

John Fitch: Faith Against All Obstacles


jfitch 1aOn 02 July 1798, John Fitch (1743–1798) died at Bardstown, Kentucky.

As a boy, Fitch had encountered a drawing of a Newcomenen atmospheric engine, used to pump water out of mines, in an encyclopedia. Years later, he also learnt of the more efficient Watt engine, prompting him move from Connecticut to Philadelphia, to seek advice from Henry Voigt (1738–1814), a clockmaker and inventor, to help him build a working model and place it on a boat.

His first steamboat ‘Perseverance’ was launched 22 August 1787 on the Delaware River in the presence of delegates from the Constitutional Convention.

With help from his collaborator William Thornton (1759–1828), the first director of the U.S. Patent Office, he obtained a U.S. patent (26 Aug 1791) and then a French patent (29 Nov 1791). Due to the French Reign of Terror, he traveled to London, England and then to Bardstown, Kentucky, where he continued to develop steam engine models, one of which is still preserved at the Ohio Historical Society Museum.

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His memorial biography (Thompson Westcott, 1857) noted:

“John Fitch possessed sterling qualities. He was perfectly honest, and in all that he did he governed his actions by a high code of integrity. His perseverance was astonishing, his faith in the utility of his discovery unwavering. History can scarcely furnish a parallel to his career, and show an instance in which any one kept on in spite of insults such as he met with, notwithstanding discouragements calculated to subdue all hope, and in the midst of poverty the most distressing, and misery aggravated by the sufferings of a sensitive mind. He had his weaknesses, but they were rather those of a spirit which felt its superiority to those who condemned him; and if occasionally there appears in his actions evidence of conceit, it may be pardoned when we reflect how much he was the superior of those who despised him. His temper was quick and passionate… He was proud when he thought he was wronged, and even overbearing in his intercourse with others who thwarted him; but his haughtiness was caused by a belief that he was entirely right. The melancholy history of his struggles and disappointments cannot be read without pity that one so deserving, and who was so correct in his views of the practicability of his great invention, should have been neglected, reviled, and persecuted.”

After encounters with several religious traditions, including his father’s Presbyterianism and Methodists who forbade his working on sundays, Fitch, according to his biography, “became a Deist, in the sense which now distinguishes Unitarianism… [their] society began to meet regularly in the autumn of 1790, and there were thirty members. The code of morals inculcated by its laws was very strict… Any offence against the laws of God and nature was to be similarly reproved… The Society met weekly, for instruction, conference, and debate upon moral and philosophical topics. Subjects were also assigned to the members to be treated upon in essays.”

A fresco by Constantino Brumidi depicting Fitch and his steamboat models was installed at the United States Capitol in 1876.

Westcott, Thompson. Life of John Fitch: The Inventor of the Steam-boat. (Philadelphia, PA: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1857), 411-412; 309-310. Images: University of Kentucky,

Charles Goodyear: Conscious of God’s Presence


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On 01 July 1860, Charles Goodyear (1800–1860) passed away in New York, NY. He was known for his US patent for rubber vulcanization granted 1844. Rubber vulcanization introduces sulfur cross-linkages between individual polymer chains, which render the rubber material less sticky and more durable.

Regarding Goodyear’s religious views it was written: “He was noted in his religious life for his great liberality toward those differing from himself in opinion. He could not endure to hear other professed Christians spoken of in an uncharitable manner, and felt no sympathy with the violent attacks sometimes made in public addresses on Roman Catholics. He was a noble Christian gentleman… ”

“His humility was as conspicuous as his gentleness. ‘One who knew him thoroughly,’ says his pastor in his funeral discourse, says that ‘the most marked features of his religious character were deep consciousness of the evil of sin, and of his nothingness before God. Self reliant as he appeared as a business man, his soul was most humble before God, and he seemed more deeply conscious of his dependence upon Him, and need of forgiveness as well as of forbearance, than any other person with whose religious experience I have any intimate acquaintance.’ In his last hours, when reference was made to his useful works, he humbly and devoutly responded,What am I? To God be all the glory.’

Peirce, Bradford Kinney. Trials of an Inventor: Life and Discoveries of Charles Goodyear. (New York, NY: Carlton & Porter, 1868), 19-20217. Image:

Peter Waage: According to Number and Measure and Weight


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On 29 June 1833, Peter Waage (1833–1900) was born at Flekkefjord, Norway.

He is known for discovering, with his brother-in-law Cato Maximilian Guldberg (1836–1902), the “law of mass action” during the 1860s-1870s.

The law of mass action states that the rate of a chemical reaction is directly proportional to the product of the reactant concentrations to the power of their activity coefficient. It is usually written as:                                                                                                    waage - law of mass action

A speech given by Prof. Waage had acknowledged their work’s dependence on some earlier research, which he also framed in terms of the Biblical text of Wisdom 11:21.

“[Peter] Waage of Christiania (Oslo), Norway, known through Guldberg-Waage’s law, characterized Berzelius’ work on the fixed proportions as follows: — ‘Allow me on this occasion to point out one aspect off the great master’s significant work. Through his investigations, so genially and joyfully conducted, Berzelius recognized earlier and more clearly than any other chemist the truth of the remarkable law of nature “that God has arranged everything in nature according to number and measure and weight”.

His comments on Jöns Jacob Berzelius (1779–1848) were in acknowledgement of their indebtedness to some of his earlier research. From chemistry-world, quote: “[T]hey [i.e. Berzelius and Léon Péan de-St.-Gilles (1832–1863)] found that the rate of progress towards equilibrium did depend upon the ‘active masses’ of substances present at the start of the reaction… [W]hen Maximilian Guldberg and Peter Waage eventually achieved this goal with their ‘law of mass action’ they acknowledged a substantial debt to his work.”

Interestingly, Waage had begun his primary education at the Bergen Cathedral School, about which wikipedia notes:

“The school is thought to have been founded in 1153 by Nicholas Breakspear (later Pope Adrian IV), making the school the second oldest in Norway together with Oslo Cathedral School and Hamar Cathedral School, which were founded the same year, one year after the founding of Trondheim Cathedral School.”

Sutton, Mike. “Chemistry for the Common Good.” ChemistryWorld. Royal Society. 1 March 2007.
Jorpes, Johan Erik. Jac. Berzelius: His Life and Work. Vol. 7. (Los Angeles, CA: UCLA Press, 1970), 121. Image: Univ. of Oslo: Dept. of Mathematics & Natural Sciences.

Maria Mitchell: Keeping Time with the Music of the Spheres


On 28 June 1889, Maria Mitchell (1818–1889) passed away in Lynn, MA. An American astronomer, she is known for having discovered a comet, “Miss Mitchell’s Comet” (Comet 1847 VI, modern designation is C/1847 T1). The Mitchell crater on the moon, adjacent to the Aristotle crater, was named in her honor.

While working at Vassar College Observatory, 1 October 1847, she made the discovery of comet 1847 VI (C/1847 T1). It was independently discovered three days later in Europe by Fr. Francesco de Vico (1805–1848) on October 3.


Born in Nantucket, her family tree could be traced to her great-great-great-great grandfather Peter Foulger and great-great-great-great grandmother Mary Morrill Foulger, through which she was a first cousin four times removed of Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790). Her parents, William Mitchell and Lydia Coleman Mitchell, were Quakers (Religious Society of Friends) and raised their nine children in the family’s religion. This Massachusetts community of Quakers to which they belonged has been noted for its belief in gender equality.

During her career, she also worked at the U.S. Nautical Almanac Office, calculating tables of positions of Venus. Beginning in 1868, she made observations of sun spots, and with a new fitted telescopic in 1873, kept a daily photographic record of solar activity. In July 1878, she and several collaborators traveled to Denver, CO with a 4-inch telescope to make observations of a solar eclipse.

In 1848, she was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; in 1859, she was made a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; and in 1869, she was elected to the American Philosophical Society.

Though she never married, she was known to have remained close to her immediate family, and also had friendships with the family of Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–1864), traveling to Europe with them in 1857. During the abolitionist movement, she worked with Unitarian religious groups and also helped co-found the American Association for the Advancement of Women.

A quote often remembered from Prof. Mitchell: “Every formula which expresses a law of nature is a hymn of praise to God.”

“Maria Mitchell.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation.
“American Scenic, and Historic Preservation Society. Annual Report” Vol. 26. (New York, NY: Legislature of the State of NY, 1922), 128. Image: © Behance, Emily Gaumnitz.