Christiaan Huygens

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Christiaan Huygens was born on 14 April 1629 in The Hague, Netherlands. He received private tutoring at home until the age of 16, when he began college studies in law and mathematics. His interest in the mathematics of geometrical objects, specifically the parabola, led him to work on lens construction, and around 1654 he devised an improved way of grinding and polishing lenses. His technique enabled him to resolve the rings of Saturn, whose nature until then had been unknown. Another important objective in astronomy -- accurate timekeeping -- prompted Huygens to study the mechanics of clocks. In 1656 he invented the pendulum clock. Its applications extend beyond the realm of astronomy to daily life and even to determining longitude at sea. By studying the pendulum and other bodies in motion, Huygens derived the law of centripetal acceleration and uniform circular motion. Later experiments led him to formulate the laws of conservation of momentum (which disproved Descartes' view on the subject), and the laws of reflection and refraction (although based on a later discredited theory of light.) Huygens continued to work on lenses and a spring-regulated clock throughout his life. He was a contemporary of Isaac Newton, with similarly wide-ranging interests and accomplishments in science. Just before his death in 1695, he wrote one of the earliest discussions of extraterrestrial life, which was published posthumously.

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  1. Huygens Biography 1
  2. Huygens Biography 2