Colin Maclaurin

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Colin Maclaurin (February 1698 – 14 June 1746) was a Scottish mathematician. Due to changes in orthography since that time (his name was originally rendered as e.g. "M'Laurine"[1]), his surname is alternatively written MacLaurin.[2] In Gaelic the name is "Cailean MacLabhruinn", which is literally 'Colin, the son of Laurence.'[3]


Life and work

Maclaurin was born in Kilmodan, Argyll. His father, Reverend and Minister of Glendaruel John Maclaurin, died when Maclaurin was in infancy, and his mother before he reached nine years of age. He was then educated under the care of his uncle, the Reverend Daniel Maclaurin, minister of Kilfinnan.

At eleven, Maclaurin entered the University of Glasgow. He would graduate MA three years later by defending a thesis on the Power of Gravity, and remain at Glasgow to study divinity until he was 19, when he was elected professor of mathematics in a ten-day competition at the Marischal College in the University of Aberdeen. He would hold the record as the world's youngest professor until March 2008, when the record was officially given to Alia Sabur.[4]

In the vacations of 1719 and 1721, Maclaurin went to London, where he became acquainted with Sir Isaac Newton, Dr. Hoadley, Dr. Samuel Clarke, Martin Folkes, and other eminent philosophers. He was admitted a member of the Royal Society.

In 1722, having provided a substitute for his class at Aberdeen, he traveled on the Continent as tutor to George Hume, the son of Alexander Hume, 2nd Earl of Marchmont. During their time in Lorraine, he wrote his essay on the Percussion of Bodies, which would gain the prize of the Royal Academy of Sciences in 1724. Upon the death of his pupil at Montpellier, Maclaurin returned to Aberdeen.

In 1725 Maclaurin was appointed deputy to the mathematical professor at Edinburgh, James Gregory (brother of David Gregory and nephew of the esteemed James Gregory), upon the recommendation of Isaac Newton. On November 3 of that year Maclaurin would succeed Gregory, and be credited with raising the character of that university as a school of science. Newton was so impressed with Maclaurin that he had offered to pay his salary himself.

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