Christiaan Huygens (1629 - 1695)

Huygens came from a prominent Dutch family and throughout out his life had easy access to the highest intellectual circles.

His early mathematical progress was watched over by Descartes, a family friend, while in later life he met with the great and the good of the 17th century mathematical world - amongst others, Newton, Pascal, Leibniz and Wallis.

He was not perhaps a mathematical genius, but he did show a remarkable talent for combining mathematics and mechanics.

Interested in astronomy, in 1654 he discovered a new way of grinding and polishing lenses for a telescope. This invention greatly developed the accuracy of telescopes and he was able to see the first moon of Saturn.

Huygens believed that mechanical explanations had precedence over all others. Because of this he couldn’t believe Newton’s gravity theory much as he admired the man.

Newton’s work into light and mechanics cast a shadow over all others and so it was only in the 19th century that Huygens own work on rotating bodies and his wave theory of light began to receive the attention they deserved and overturn Newtonian ideas on the subject.