Laplace attended a Benedictine priory school in Beaumont between the ages
of 7 and 16. At the age of 16 he entered Caen University intending to
study theology. Laplace wrote his first mathematics paper while at Caen.
At the age of 19, mainly through the influence of d'Alembert, Laplace
was appointed to a chair of mathematics at the ¨¦cole Militaire in Paris
on the recommendation of d'Alembert. In 1773 he became a member of the
Paris Academy of Sciences. In 1785, as examiner at the Royal Artillery
Corps, he examined and passed the 16 year old Napoleon Bonaparte.
During the French Revolution he helped to establish the metric system.
He taught calculus at the ¨¦cole Normale and became a member of the French
Institute in 1795. Under Napoleon he was a member, then chancellor, of
the Senate, received the Legion of Honour in 1805. However Napoleon, in
his memoires written on St H¨¦l¨¨ne, says he removed Laplace from office
after only six weeks
because he brought the spirit of the infinitely small into the government
Laplace became Count of the Empire in 1806 and he was named a marquis
in 1817 after the restoration of the Bourbons. In his later years he lived
in Arcueil, where he helped to found the Societe d'Arcueil and encouraged
the research of young scientists.
Laplace presented his famous nebular hypothesis in Exposition du systeme
du monde (1796), which viewed the solar system as originating from the
contracting and cooling of a large, flattened, and slowly rotating cloud
of incandescent gas.
Laplace discovered the invariability of planetary mean motions. In 1786
he proved that the eccentricities and inclinations of planetary orbits
to each other always remain small, constant, and self-correcting. These
results appear in his greatest work, Trait¨¦ du M¨¦canique C¨¦leste published
in 5 volumes over 26 years (1799-1825).
Laplace also worked on probability and in particular derived the least
squares rule. His Th¨¦orie Analytique des Probabilit¨¦s was published in
He also worked on differential equations and geodesy. In analysis Laplace
introduced the potential function and Laplace coefficients. He also put
the theory of mathematical probability on a sound footing. With Antoine
Lavoisier he conducted experiments on capillary action and specific heat.
He also contributed to the foundations of the mathematical science of
electricity and magnetism.
Dictionary of Scientific Biography
Biography in Encyclopaedia Britannica
E T Whittaker, Works of Laplace, Mathematical Gazette 33 (1949), 1-12.
E T Bell, Men of Mathematics (1961).
M P Corsland, The Society of Arcueil: A View of French Science at the
Time of Napoleon I (1967).
J Fourier, ¨¦loge historique de M le Marquis de Laplace, MASIF 10 (1831).
S M Stigler, The History of Statistics. The Measurement of Uncertainty
before 1900 (Cambridge, Mass.-London, 1986), 100- .
H Bernhard, Laplace, in H Wussing and W Arnold, Biographien bedeutender
Mathematiker (Berlin, 1983).