There are a lot of us in the world who couldn’t learn math even if we had the best and brightest minds teaching us for several hours per day. Then, there are those that can simply open up a math book and figure out equations without any formal education. It seems unfair, but when this happens, that person is an autodidact. This is the art of teaching yourself a particular topic, and math can be the hardest to learn.
Throughout the course of history, there have been many notable math autodidacts. Many of them have gone on to change the way we think about and study mathematics to this day. Let’s take a look at five of those self-taught mathematicians who blitzed the academic world, leaving it better off.
Nottingham, England native George Green was born toward the end of the 18th century and only had one year of schooling as a child. Green taught himself pretty much everything that he knew when it came to academics. When he attended school for that year, teachers said they taught him all they could. He spent much of the 1820s working as a miller with his father while working in math on his own.
In 1828, he published “An Essay on the Application of Mathematical Analysis to the Theories of Electricity and Magnetism”. The following year, his father passed away and left Green a hefty sum of money. This allowed Green to focus all of his time on mathematics and he attended college at nearly 40 years old. He continued to churn out publishings and by the time of his death in 1841, Green had become quite accomplished.
We now go from someone born in the 1790s to someone born in the 1990s. Susan Fowler is an Arizona native who was homeschooled while her father worked as a preacher. Wanting to get away from the homeschool structure that was based around religion, Fowler spent much of her free time in the public library teaching herself mathematics.
Because of this, Fowler was able to learn enough to ace her college entrance exams and attended Arizona State University before transferring to the Ivy League school Penn where she finished her degree before it was rescinded. Fowler used her mathematics skills to become an engineer for Plaid, PubNubu, and Uber, helping to put all three companies on the map.
Our next genius is Srinivasa Ramanujan, an Indian native who had just about zero training in math but still went on to become one of the greatest in the field during the past couple of centuries. Though he lived to be just 32 years old, Ramanujan accomplished more than just about anyone else had at that time.
Ramanujan would put himself in isolation to study math and what he came up with was so revolutionary that even experts couldn’t comprehend what they were seeing. There were a lot of new pieces of math which were named after Ramanujan, including the Ramanujan sum and Ramanujam prime. At just 30 years old, he became a Fellow of the Royal Society.
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz
Out of the hairdos on the list, it would be hard to top Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz of Leipzig. It wasn’t just mathematics that Leibniz excelled in, but also philosophy. As for the former category, Leibniz developed the base of integral and differential calculus, even forming a more widely-accepted theory than that of Isaac Newton.
Leibniz was born in 1646 and lived a long life at that time, making it to 70 years old. Leibniz received very little formal training but was able to develop parts of a curve including the abscissa and tangent. What truly made him memorable was that Leibniz invented one of the first mechanical calculators, saving mankind countless hours working on mathematical problems both simple and complex.
Mary Everest Boole
Born in Wickwar, England in 1832, Mary Everest Boole was the niece of George Everest. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Mt. Everest was named after him. As for Boole, she had a private tutor during her early years, but after the age of 10, she began teaching herself mathematics and eventually worked with her future husband George Boole.
Following his death, Mary was just 32 years old and took on a job as a librarian while continuing her mathematical studies. She lived to be 84 years old, and throughout her adult life, she taught many people how to do math. She even created curve stitching (or string geometry) as a teaching tool. Without Boole, the modern education system would look much different today.