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Jean-Baptiste Biot

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21 April 1774

Paris, France

3 Feb 1862

Paris, France

Jean-Baptiste Biot was educated at the college of Louis-le-grand in Paris, then after graduating he joined the army in 1793. He was then a pupil at the École Polytechnique in Paris where Monge realised his potential. There was an attempted insurrection by the royalists against the Convention and Biot took part. He was captured by government forces and taken prisoner. Had it not been for Monge , who could not see someone with such talents remain in jail, or even die, pleading successfully for his release his promising career might have ended.

He became Professor of Mathematics at the École Centrale at Beauvais in 1797. Three years later he became Professor of Mathematical Physics at the Collège de France, an appointment which was due to the influence of Laplace .

In 1803 Biot was elected to the First Class of the Institute. Three years later he went with Arago to Spain to complete earlier work begun there on calculating the measure of the arc of the meridian. In 1809 Biot was appointed Professor of Physical Astronomy at the Faculty of Sciences.

Biot studied a wide range of mathematical topics, mostly on the applied mathematics side. He made advances in astronomy, elasticity, electricity and magnetism, heat and optics on the applied side while, in pure mathematics, he also did important work in geometry. He collaborated with Arago on refractive properties of gases.

Biot, together with Savart , discovered that the intensity of the magnetic field set up by a current flowing through a wire varies inversely with the distance from the wire. This is now known as Biot-Savart's Law and is fundamental to modern electromagnetic theory.

For his work on the polarisation of light passing through chemical solutions he was awarded the Rumford Medal of the Royal Society . Another of his important works was Mémoire sur la figure de la terre (1827) which describes the shape of the Earth.

He tried twice for the post of Secretary to the Académie des Sciences and to improve his chances for election to this post he wrote Essai sur l'Histoire Générale des Sciences pendant la Révolution. However he lost out in 1822 to Fourier for this post, then again when Fourier died he applied only to lose to Arago .

In St Beuve says that Biot

was endowed to the highest degree with all the qualities of curiosity, finesse, penetration, precision, ingenious analysis, method, clarity, in short with all the essential and secondary qualities, bar one, genius, in the sense of originality and invention.

A contrasting comment by Olinthus Gregory in 1821 is:

With regard to M. Biot, I had an opportunity of pretty fully appreciating his character when we were together in the Zetland [= Shetland] Isles; and I do not hesitate to say that I never met so strange a compound of vanity, impetuosity, fickleness, and natural partiality, as is exhibited in his character.

Source:School of Mathematics and Statistics University of St Andrews, Scotland