Zhiruo Zhou studied Johann Friedrich Pfaff and shared her study with MCL members in the pre-seminar sharing on Mar 6th, 2023. Johann Friedrich Pfaff was born 22 December 1765 in Stuttgart, Württemberg (now Germany), and died 21 April 1825 in Halle, Saxony (now Germany). He was an influential German mathematician and well known for his work on systems of partial differential equations.

Johann Friedrich was the second son in the family and had six brothers. Although he was probably the one that gained the most fame among his siblings, his brothers were also talented in various fields. His youngest brother Johann Wilhelm Pfaff was a mathematician, and his second youngest brother Christoph Heinrich Pfaff had experiences working on chemistry, medicine, pharmacy and electricity on animals.

Johann Friedrich was born in a family with the tradition of working for the government and therefore took the school named Hohe Karlsschule to receive training for government officials’ sons when he was nine years old. He spent around eleven years there and left when he had completed studies in law which was supposed to be a fitting subject for a civil servant. Driven by the interest in mathematics and encouragement from academy, Johann Friedrich decided to move toward scientific topics and studied mathematics and physics at the University of Göttingen for two years. Then he moved to Berlin to study astronomy and wrote his first paper on astronomy there.

In 1788, Johann Friedrich accepted the election as a professor of mathematics at the University of Helmstedt and stay there until 1810. He spent a lot of efforts on teaching and increasing the number of students of mathematics. He met the student Gauss there and had a good relationship with Gauss. However, the university was under the threat of closure and he fought hard to prevent this for years but finally failed and chose to move to Halle as the chair of mathematics. In 1815, he was around fifty years old and published his most important work on Pfaffian forms.

Johann Friedrich Pfaff was a precursor of the German school of mathematical thinking and also a nice professor devoting his enthusiasm into teaching and research. As a MCL member, we need to remember what Johann Friedrich Pfaff brought to us, be proud of him and contribute to the field we choose.



[1] https://mathshistory.st-andrews.ac.uk/Biographies/Pfaff/

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johann_Friedrich_Pfaff