Thomas Harriot Thomas Harriot was born in 1560 in Oxford, England. Very little is known about his youth. We do know that he attended Oxford University in 1577. His father was a “commoner”, but unlikely from the poorest class. Harriot graduated in 1580 as an undergraduate at Oxford from St. Mary’s Hall. Harriot then went to London where he entered Sir Walter Raleigh’s service around late 1583. Harriot never published his mathematical work in his lifetime. From manuscripts we know that Harriot engaged in deep studies of optics at Syon by 1597. In July 1601 Harriot discovered the sine law of refraction of light. He studied Alhazen’s problem and gave a solution which involved considering an equivalent problem, namely the problem of the maximum intercept formed between a circle and a diameter of a chord rotating about a point on a circle. By 1606 he began to study the dispersions of light into colors, and began to develop a theory for the rainbow. He was a mathematician and astronomer who founded the English school of algebra. Fauvel and Goulding described him as “the greatest mathematician that Oxford has produced”. Still today his achievements are not fully appreciated by most mathematicians. Harriot exhibited the logarithmic spiral as the stereographic projection of a loxodrome on a sphere, which proved to be conformal. With great precision Harriot computed the loxodromes, which are the straight lines on the Mercator map. In order to achieve this precision, Harriot introduced finite difference interpolation. Another part of his work, which he is best known, is his work on algebra. He introduced a simplified notation for algebra and his fundamental research on the theory of equations. Thomas Harriot led a full life. Some of his other studies include chemistry, which he studied for almost a year, but did not make any noteworthy discoveries. Harriot was accused of being an atheist, and an evil influence. …
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