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Minkowski, Hermann

MINKOWSKI, HERMANN (1864–1909), German mathematician. Minkowski, who was born in Alexoten, Lithuania, was taken to Koenigsberg, Germany, by his parents when he was eight years old. He held chairs of mathematics at Koenigsberg in 1895, Zurich in 1896, and in Goettingen (where a special chair was created for him) in 1902. In 1881 the Paris Academy of Science offered their prize for an investigation of the representation of integers as sums of squares. Although only a freshman, he produced a brilliant paper which went far beyond his terms of reference. The Academy overlooked his writing in German, a language not permitted by the prize regulations, and awarded him a prize. Minkowski's early work was on the theory of numbers. Apart from some work of *Eisenstein and others, Minkowski is entitled to nearly all the credit for creating the geometry of numbers. He was one of the earliest mathematicians to realize the significance of *Cantor's theory of sets at a time when this theory was not appreciated by most mathematicians. The later work of Minkowski was inspired by *Einstein's special theory of relativity which was first published in 1905. He produced the four-dimensional formulation of relativity which has given rise to the term "Minkowski space." He also made contributions to the theories of electrodynamics and hydrodynamics. The collected works of Minkowski were edited by D. Hilbert in two volumes and published in 1911 in Leipzig. The first volume contains a biographical article by Hilbert. In addition to his papers, he published the book Diophantische Approximationen (1907).


J.C. Poggendorff, Biographisch-literarisches Handwoerterbuch…der exakten Wissenschaften, 5 (1926), S.V.