Headstrong: Émilie du Châtelet

A little late for July’s science woman… but here we go!

Émilie du Châtelet (1706-1749) is another example of someone who contributed quite a bit in a short amount of time. The more stories I hear about these amazing people, the more I wonder what kinds of things they could have accomplished with more time.

Émilie didn’t start delving into the world of mathematics and physics until she was 26, when she started taking private lessons in mathematics. These lessons ignited her passion for physics – something I strongly relate to! There is something fascinating and empowering about knowing that the world around you is described by predictable rules. You can both understand and predict aspects of the universe from just a few* equations.

*well, you know… more than a few 😉

Émilie eventually surpassed her tutors and sought even more engagement, declaring her home a place for intellectuals to visit and work. She hosted many scholars including Voltaire.

As she became more confident in her ability to contribute to the community, she wrote her first book. Her book filled the role of introducing the basic concepts of physics at a level that was concise and easily grasped, inspired by her desire to teach her son the basics of physics. When this book was critiqued – more because of the gender of the author than the actual content – Emilie delivered a swift response addressing all of the criticisms precisely while also demonstrating her mastery of physics.

Her greatest work was also her last – translating and annotating the work of Isaac Newton. Not only did she make the work more accessible in another language, she also added 287 pages of commentary and more equations to support the claims. She pushed to finish her manuscript before the birth of her fourth child, finishing it just days before her child was born and 10 days before her death.

2 thoughts on “Headstrong: Émilie du Châtelet

  1. So sad she only lived to be 43. She made great contributions to science Ben those she had only 15 or so years of study in the field of mathematics and physics. It does indeed make one wonder what else she could have done with more time.

    I’m curious to know approximately how many equations one must master to be able to understand and predict a fair amount of the rules of the universe. 🙂

  2. Amen! to what Kris said. Her story is very sad, yet amazing. Thanks, J’Neil for exposing us to these wonderful ladies.

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