George Green

George Green nsIn existographies, George Green (1793-1841) (GPE:#) (CR:16) was a English mathematical physicist noted for his 1828 treatise “An Essay on the Application of Mathematical Analysis to the Theories of Electricity and Magnetism”, in which he introduced the concept of “potential function”. [1]


Green, starting from Pierre Laplace’s equation, was the first to define the potential as a function of Cartesian coordinates V(x,y,z), particularly the potential energy of an arbitrary static distribution of electric charges.

Green’s article was self-published, and sold only 51 copies. Curiously, it was Irish physicist William Thomson who in 1845 (age 21) first unearthed Green’s treatise and brought it into the hands of the leading scientists; which is the same year he also unearthed Sadi Carnot’s 1824 treatise on thermodynamics, bring that into the hands of the leading scientists. [2]

Some of Green's mathematical concepts seem to have been influential in the writings of Peter Tait and James Maxwell. [5]

Green, independent of, it seems, albeit nearly in the same time period of, Carl Gauss, did the first work on the divergence theorem. [6]

Green also is the eponym of the Gauss-Green-Stokes theorem, the fundamental theorem of calculus:

fundamental theorem of calculus

which asserts that the integral of the derivative of some function in an interval is equal to the difference in the values of the function at the endpoints of the interval: [7]

Green's biography is somewhat remarkable in that he was almost entirely self-taught, having only had about one year of formal schooling as a child between the ages of 8 and 9, after which he read books via a Nottingham Subscription Library to educate himself.

In 1833, aged 40, he later entered Cambridge University, as an undergraduate, and graduated in 1837. After graduation Green stayed on at Cambridge, writing on optics, acoustics, and hydrodynamics. However, in 1840 he became ill and returned to Nottingham where he died the following year.

Green being a relatively obscure genius, photo correctness seems to be an issue. The 2008 book Continuum Thermodynamics, by Polish materials science engineer Krzysztof Wilmanski, for example, mis-pictures a George Green (1793-1841) alongside Augustin Cauchy (1789) and Leonhard Euler (1707-1783), whereas the book photo shown is some American named George Bernard Green (1822-1901). [4]

1. (a) Green, George. (1828). “An Essay on the Application of Mathematical Analysis to the Theories of Electricity and Magnetism.” Nottingham: T. Wheelhouse.
(b) An Essay on the Application of Mathematical Analysis to the Theories of Electricity and Magnetism – Wikipedia.
2. Coopersmith, Jennifer. (2010). Energy, the Subtle Concept: the Discovery of Feynman’s Blocks from Leibniz to Einstein (pg. 230). Oxford University Press.
3. George Green – Nottingham.
4. (a) Wilmanski, Krzysztof. (2008). Continuum Thermodynamics (pg. 14). World Scientific.
(b) George Bernard Green (1822-1901) (photo) –
5. (a) Tait, Peter. (1870). “On Green’s and other Allied Theorems”, Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, May 16.
(b) Maxwell, James. (1871). “Remarks on the Mathematical Classification of Physical Quantities” (pdf), Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society, s1-3: 224-33.
6. Andrews, Larry C. and Phillips, Ronald. (2003). Mathematical Techniques for Engineers and Scientists (pg. 144). SPIE Press.
7. Anon. (2010). The Britannica Guide to the History of Mathematics (pg. 158). Rosen Publishing Group.

Further reading
● Green, George. (1837). “On the Laws of the reflexion and Refraction of Light at the Common Surface of two Non-crystallized Media”, Cambridge Phil. Trans. Dec., with Supplement, May, 1839; George Green, “On the Propagation of Light in Crystallized Media”, Cambridge Phil. Trans. May, 1839.
● James, Loan M. (2004). Remarkable Physicists: from Galileo to Yukawa (George Green, pgs. 119-125). Cambridge University Press.

External links
George Green – Wikipedia.

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