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Pedro Nunes Salaciense

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Alcácer do Sal, Portugal

11 Aug 1578

Coimbra, Portugal

Pedro Nunes or Nunez studied at Salamanca from 1521 until 1522. He then attended the University of Lisbon where he obtained a degree in medicine in 1525. He continued his medical studies but held various teaching posts within the University of Lisbon.

He was appointed to the chair of moral philosophy in 1529 then to the chair of logic in 1530 then to the chair if metaphysics in 1532. Not bad going for a medical student!

Nunes moved to the University of Coimbra to the chair of mathematics in 1537, a post he held until 1562. This was a new post in the University of Coimbra and it was set up to provide instruction in the technical requirements for navigation, clearly a topic of great importance in Portugal at this period when control of sea trade was the chief source of Portuguese wealth. In addition to this post he was appointed Royal Cosmographer in 1529 and Chief Royal Cosmographer in 1547. He held this post until his death.

Nunes worked in geometry and spherical trigonometry publishing Treatise on the Sphere. He also did important work in algebra and published Algebra in Spanish.

Outside mathematics he worked in geography, physics, cosmology and he wrote poetry. He also made many important contributions to navigation writing Navigandi Libri Duo in 1546.

Nunes devised a system to allow fractional parts of a degree to be measured. He describes it as:

drawing on the face of a quadrant for measuring angles 45 concentric arcs, one of which was divided into 90 equal parts or degrees, and the remainder into 89, 88, 87, 86, etc., successively, the last being divided into 46 equal parts. When the index did not exactly cut one of the divisions of the arc of degrees, it passed through or near to one of the divisions of one or other of the other arcs; and by noting the place of that division the fractional parts of a degree were calculated.

While at Coimbra Nunes taught Clavius .

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