nless you study Mathematics or Physics at a university level, it is very unlikely that you have ever heard of Leonhard Euler (1707–1783). But as many of the people who know who he is would tell you, his impact on the scientific world cannot be overlooked. Similar to DaVinci, Euler didn’t focus on only one facet of science. He was known for his work in optics, astronomy, music theory, mechanics, and fluid dynamics with all his work in these subjects shaping them for years to come as well as some of his theories still being used today. The magnitude of the number of his discoveries meant that most weren’t named after him but after the first person to prove his theories to avoid naming everything after him.
From his birth, his intellect was clear to some, but due to his father being a cleric he wanted Euler to follow a path in theology. His saving grace was Johann Bernoulli who gained contact with young Euler through his father being a family friend of the Bernoulli family. Johann Bernoulli was known to be Europe’s best mathematician at the time and under his guidance after convincing his father that young Euler was headed towards a great career in maths, he tutored him every Sunday where his skill became ever more apparent.
Problems with his Eyesight
His scientific feats become even more impressive when we put his deterioration of eyesight later in his adulthood into perspective. In 1738 he became almost blind in his right eye which rather than blame on a recurring 3-year fever he would blame on the cartography work he performed for the University of Saint Petersburg. After moving to Germany due to the conditions at the University of Saint Petersburg deteriorating as censorship became more and more prone, his eyesight worsened with him developing a cataract in his left eye which was his only working eye at the time later into his stay in Germany leading to him becoming blind. To this he remarked:
“Now I will have fewer distractions.” — Leonhard Euler
Instead of being put off by this his productivity actually increased with the help of some scribes which allowed him to increase his production of mathematical papers to a one-a-day basis which highlighted his perseverance and his affinity for mathematics.
Under Catherine the Great, Euler was persuaded to move back to Russia with a promise of a very large paycheck and pension as well as high positions in government for all of his children. He accepted and spent the rest of his days under the prospering Russian Empire led by Catherine. He would later die of a brain hemorrhage while discussing the discovery of a new planet called Uranus, ending his life as he lived it, enquiring into science.
The lack of coverage of Euler in pop culture in favour of scientists like Einstein and Newton seems strange to me as his achievements were monumental and in some aspects outweighed the achievements of either Newton or Einstein in terms of the volume of scientific discoveries. But due to many of his achievements being named after the people who confirmed them rather than after Euler himself his popularity seems to lack if we consider his impact on the scientific world.
Overall everyone can learn from Euler’s work philosophy and how he applied himself to a subject, he excelled at as well as the importance of recognising talent at a young age allowing for its proper development to reach its potential. Without the help of Johann Bernoulli Euler might’ve never ended up with his love for mathematics as he had with his help and due to his father’s pressure on him to follow a path in theology, his intellect might’ve been wasted or applied in ways he wouldn’t reach his full potential. We cannot play down his perseverance after his loss of eyesight as not only did he disregard it as a simple fact of life but also transformed his work ethic allowing him to become even more productive than ever. I conclude from this that we must be helped by others by them recognizing our talent, as well as learning how to turn roadblocks into ramps meaning that instead of stopping we lift off as a result of them.