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>  News Releases >   2007 >   February

Dartmouth students build online archive featuring historic mathematician

Dartmouth College Office of Public Affairs • Press Release
Posted 02/01/07 • Sue Knapp
• (603) 646-3661

Screenshot of the Euler Archive
The Euler Archive gets about 20,000 unique visits per month from scholars, students, and others all over the world. See for yourself at www.eulerarchive.org
Cover page of a Euler document
The title page of a Euler document originally published in Piece qui a remporte le prix de l'academie royale des sciences 1727, 1728. (Courtesy of Euler Archive)

Three hundred years ago, a prolific and influential mathematician named Leonhard Euler was born in Switzerland. During his 76-year lifetime, he wrote more than 850 papers covering various topics such as fluid mechanics, naval science, calculus, cartography, acoustics, optics, and solar, lunar, and stellar motion. Despite this incredible body of work, which some historians say makes up 25 percent of all the scientific work published in the 18th century, Euler is not a household name.

Dartmouth students took this challenge, and set out to help raise awareness of Euler and to make his work more accessible. Graduate students Dominic Klyve and Lee Stemkoski, with help from other graduate and undergraduate students, began about four years ago to copy, scan, and post the original works of Euler online.

Their effort, called the Euler Archive, is getting recognition from the Mathematical Association of America, which is celebrating 2007 as the year of Euler in honor of the 300th anniversary of his birth. In addition to Euler books, lectures, study tours, and other activities, a poster was produced that promotes Dartmouth's Euler Archive as a place to consult for further study.

"Perhaps the most striking thing about the Euler Archive, in my mind, is that faculty were not really involved," says Carl Pomerance, mathematics professor at Dartmouth. "This was a student project all the way, from the first germ of an idea through its continuing execution."

"I think there are two basic reasons Euler is not more widely known," says Klyve. "First, he wrote so much that it's frankly difficult to comprehend it all. Second, his original writings are difficult to find, and they haven't all been translated into English. Publication of his complete works began in 1907, and it's still not complete."

Both Klyve and Pomerance acknowledge the initial support from the Dartmouth Library, which owns a copy of the Opera Omnia, the encyclopedia-in-progress of Euler's works. With the Library's blessing, the first papers were scanned and posted, and that provided the incentive to get other academics and other libraries involved. With financial support from Presence Switzerland, The Swiss House for Advanced Research and Education, the Swiss State Secretariat for Education and Research, and the Dartmouth Math Department, the online archive now boasts 834 of Euler's papers and books, all available for free download.

"Since its inception, the Euler Archive has expanded to include not just original works, but also secondary sources and translations," says Klyve. "In the past three years, we have more than doubled the number of Euler's works that have been translated into English, and we now have 74 translations available, more than half of which were published first on the Euler Archive." 

Klyve reports that the Euler Archive gets about 20,000 unique visits per month from scholars, students, and others all over the world.

"I think that the because of the archive, there's been a rapid increase of scholarly work on Euler in recent years," says Klyve. "We have been very gratified by the comments we've received from the people who have used our work in their own."

Pomerance adds, "The Euler Archive has turned out to be extraordinarily useful to mathematical historians.  Having centuries-old work readily available on your laptop certainly beats long waits for documents retrieved through interlibrary loan or your library's repository."

Dartmouth has television (satellite uplink) and radio (ISDN) studios available for domestic and international live and taped interviews. For more information, call 603-646-3661 or see our Radio, Television capability webpage.

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