Gerolamo Cardano

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Gerolamo (or Girolamo, or Geronimo) Cardano (French Jérôme Cardan; Latin Hieronymus Cardanus) (24 September 1501 – 21 September 1576) was an Italian Renaissance mathematician, physician, astrologer and gambler.


Early life and education

He was born in Pavia, Lombardy, the illegitimate child of Fazio Cardano, a mathematically gifted lawyer, who was a friend of Leonardo da Vinci. In his autobiography, Cardano claimed that his mother had attempted to abort him. Shortly before his birth, his mother had to move from Milan to Pavia to escape the plague; her three other children died from the disease.

In 1520, he entered the University of Pavia and later in Padua studied medicine. His eccentric and confrontational style did not earn him many friends and he had a difficult time finding work after his studies had ended. In 1525, Cardano repeatedly applied to the College of Physicians in Milan, but was not admitted owing to his reputation and illegitimate birth.

Eventually, he managed to develop a considerable reputation as a physician and his services were highly valued at the courts. He was the first to describe typhoid fever.


Today, he is best known for his achievements in algebra. He published the solutions to the cubic and quartic equations in his 1545 book Ars Magna. The solution to one particular case of the cubic, x3 + ax = b (in modern notation), was communicated to him by Niccolò Fontana Tartaglia (who later claimed that Cardano had sworn not to reveal it, and engaged Cardano in a decade-long fight), and the quartic was solved by Cardano's student Lodovico Ferrari. Both were acknowledged in the foreword of the book, as well as in several places within its body. In his exposition, he acknowledged the existence of what are now called imaginary numbers, although he did not understand their properties (Mathematical field theory was developed centuries later). In Opus novum de proportionibus he introduced the binomial coefficients and the binomial theorem.

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