Evariste Galois

Q: When you were growing up, did you enjoy math?

A: Well, I was home schooled by my parents until I was 12. In 1823, I was enrolled in Louis-le-Grand, a boarding school near Paris. I immediately disliked the prison-like atmosphere of the school and the harshness of its dictatorial headmaster. Although my schoolwork showed some promise at first, I soon tried of the repetitive memorizing that was required. The only subject that interested me was arithmetic, but it was considered unimportant by the school staff. However, as the years passed, I become more and more fascinated with mathematics. When I was 14, I pored over the works of Lagrange and the Norwegian, Abel.

Q: What was the turning point in your life?

A: My turning point was probably in 1827, when I enrolled in my first mathematics class, under the instruction of M. Vernier. I remembered he told my parents that “It is the passion for mathematics which dominates him, I think it would be best for him if you allow him to study nothing but this.”

Q; Why did you wish to apply to Ecole Polytechnique, the leading university in Paris?

A: I wanted to go to Polytechinque for two reasons: the first and obvious reason is for academic reasons, and the second reason was because of the strong political movements that existed among its students, especially with me as an ardent republican.

Q; How did you feel when you were rejected from Polytechinque?

A: I guess I was hurt and surprised mostly. But a great deal of my rejection is because of my pride. I was so certain of my success that I felt it would be unnecessary to prepare for the test. On the day of the examination, the problems were as simple as I expected, so I waited for my acceptance with confidence. When I saw the result of the examination, my confidence just shattered. My usual method of solving problems – in my head, without detail or explanation – had failed me.

Q: Tell my about your papers that you wrote.

A: Well in 1829, I published my first paper, on the continued fractions in the Annales de mathematiques. A few months later, I prepared a summary of all my mathematical findings and sent it to the French Academy, hoping that they would give me support. Unfortunately, the mathematician Cauchy, who received my manuscript, must have lost it. People say that he was either jealous or unimpressed by it, but who knows.

Q: What happened during your infamous meeting when you applied to Polytechinque for the second time?

A: I guess the examiners were “ready” for me – they probably heard of my daring attempt to present my work to the Academy. During the meeting, they made some taunting remarks and questions, which made it clear to me that I would have no hope for acceptance. So in a fit of rage, I hurled an eraser at one of the questioners and ran from out of the examination hall before the test was finished.

Q: Now, you were aware that your papers were lost when you sent them to the Academy. Why did you wish to send them again?

A: I really don't know. I am the persistent type – I sent Cauchy farther work on my theory of equations, and in 1830, I submitted a new article, On the condition that an equation be soluble by radicals, which was sent to Fourier, the secretary of the Academy, to be considered for the Grand Prize in mathematics. However he died suddenly and my paper was never found – again. I think it was this paper's disappearance that drove me in to a bitter state.

Q: How were your “army days?”

A; My time in the army was an outlet for my frustrated spirit. I joined a Republican revolutionary group, but I still remained loyal to mathematics.

Q: What were some of your contributions to the field of mathematics?

A: My most important contribution was probably a manuscript On the Conditions for Solvability of Equations by Radicals, which became known as the group (Galois) theory. I sent it to the Academy as my final try. I was the first in 1831 to really understand that the algebraic solution of an equation was related to the structure of a group of permutations related to the equation. My “group” in an equation was actually a group of permutations in modern sense. In simpler words, I produced a method of determining when a general equation could be solved by radicals. My theory would solve many long-standing unanswered questions, including the impossibility of trisecting the angle and squaring the circle.

Q: You were arrested 2 times for your Republican views. What happened in prison?

A: I think it was in prison that I began to feel my true loneliness. My father was lost and no one could ever replace him. I attempted to commit suicide but my fellow prisoners stopped me.

After his prison term, Galois was challenged to a duel by another Republican. Some said that the other was really a royalist, sent by the police to get rid of Galois. Either way, Galois was wounded and he died in Cochin hospital on May 31. He was only 20. His completed word only filled 60 pages, but he will be remembered. May he rest in peace.

Works Cited

Bell, E.T. Men of Mathematics. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1965.

A well-written book that gives you a background of famous mathematicians' life. Easy to understand.

"Evariste Galois." http://scidiv.bcc.ctc.edu/Math/Galois.html

This site was short, but gave a good, concise overview of Galois.

Galois. http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Mathematicians/Galois.html

This was probably the best site out of the three. It gave the most information and was easy to understand. It also had a lot of links to subtopics in case you wanted to research more about Galois.

"Galois, Evariste." Encarta Online. http://encarta.msn.com/index/conciseindex/65/065AE000.htm?z=1&pg=2&br=1

The Encarta site was good, but the information it had on Galois was really short. I did not use this site very much.

Petsinis, Tom. The French Mathematician. New York: Tom Petsinis, 1997.

Confusing book that tells you the life of Galois through Galois himself. It did not appear to be accurate.

Stonaker, Frances Benson. Famous Mathematicians. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1966.

A children's book that was very easy to understand and very helpful, with a lot of information.