A Biography of John Napier

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John Napier

John Napier was a well known Scottish mathematician, born 1550 as Scottish nobility in the Merchiston area of Edinburgh, Scotland. Archibald, his father, was only 16 when he was born.

At the late age of 13 he took his first step into academics, enrolling in St. Salvator's College, University of St Andrews in 1563, the same year of his mother's death. He left the school without graduating, supposedly to continue his studies elsewhere in Europe (suspected to be Paris, Italy, or Germany). He returned to Scotland in 1571, and married an Elizabeth Stirling the following year. They had 2 children before the death of Elizabeth in 1579. He later then married an Agnes Chisholm, in which they had 10 children. After his father's death in 1608, Napier took residence in Merchiston Castle.

Napier was often engrossed in astronomy, which fostered the development of his mathematical contributions. His research in astronomy required him to deal with fairly large numbers, calling for a new method of easily calculating these values. From this necessity came his invention, logarithms. He realized that all numbers could be expressed in an exponential form, thus reducing operations of multiplication and division to simple addition and subtraction. From this discovery came the publication of his book "A Description of the Wonderful Canon of Logarithms". Further development brought about the birth of "Base 10", where each place to the left or right of the decimal in a number represents a power of 10. Napier was also responsible for the birth of the decimal place. He suggested that a number with fractional components be visually divided by the use of a point, or decimal. This greatly aided calculations dealing with partial numbers. This practice became largely accepted in Great Britain.

Aside the invention of logarithms and the decimal point, Napier had also created a certain style of abacus, known as "Napier's Bones", which was used for calculation of products...
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