’GPS, e-banking and more - Euler’s mathematics is modern’

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For more than a century, the Euler Committee of the Swiss Academy of Sciences has been publishing the works and correspondence of the mathematician Leonhard Euler (1707-1783). The publication of the final printed volume at the end of October also marks the beginning of the digital age, explains Hanspeter Kraft, President of the Bernoulli-Euler Society.

18 October 2022

The historic editing and publishing of the works of mathematician Leonhard Euler (1707-1783) is at a turning point...

Hanspeter Kraft: The modern possibilities of a digital edition with extensive search options and internal and external links give researchers and interested laypeople a tool far exceeding the power of the printed page. Of course, the challenges involved are enormous, especially because of the mix of languages (Latin, old German and French) and the many formulas.

What is the purpose of a digital edition?

In the long run, the digital platform OBE-digital (which stands for Opera-Bernoulli-Euler) will contain all the works, correspondence and notebooks of not only Euler, but also Bernoulli and their circle. This includes originals, catalogs, secondary literature and more. Everything will be available as open access and free of charge. This means that interested laypeople, not just experts, can engage with the material.

Leonhard Euler is still well-known more than 300 years after his birth. Was he really that remarkable in his own time?

It is accurate to characterize Euler as the greatest scholar of his time, and most mathematicians today consider him the greatest and most productive mathematician of all time. It is truly impressive how many completely new things Euler was able to create in his time - ideas and theories no one had even come close to before.

Is Euler’s work mostly of historical importance or does it remain relevant today?

In contrast to a natural science like biology, where the historic interest is largely concerned with the creation and origins of modern ideas, Euler’s mathematics is thoroughly modern and remains relevant today. Mathematical results never become wrong! We may understand them better over time thanks to new insights, or they may turn out to be special cases of more general results, but they remain correct. A common occurrence is that classic results later have incredible applications that no one could have dreamed of at the time. Euler’s ideas and formulas are used in transportation problems (GPS), in simulations of the circulatory system, and in e-banking, as we explain in an accessible way.

What are your hopes for the future of the Euler Edition?

I very much hope that young scientists will be inspired by this modern form of publishing and get fully on board. The requirements are very high, however: along with very solid historical knowledge, this project also requires good mathematical foundations and a willingness to use modern digital methods. But let’s stay optimistic!

Why do Leonhard Euler, the Bernoulli family and the classic published editions of their work matter? What potential does a modern digital edition hold? How has the publishing of Euler’s monumental work been handled so far, what does it mean to us today, and what does the future have in store? These questions are the focus of a public event in Basel on 28/29 October.