Hellenica World

Gaspard Clair François Marie Riche de Prony (July 22, 1755 - July 29, 1839) was a French mathematician and engineer, who worked on hydraulics. He was born at Chamelet, Beaujolais, France.

He was Engineer-in-Chief of the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées.

In 1792, de Prony began a major task of producing logarithmic and trigonometric tables, the Cadastre. The effort was begun at the request of the French National Assembly, which, after the French Revolution wanted to bring uniformity to the multiple measurements and standards used throughout the nation. The tables and their production were vast, with values calculated to between fourteen and twenty-nine decimal places. Inspired by Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, de Prony divided up the labor, bragging that he "could manufacture logarithms as easily as one manufactures pins."[1] At the top of the organizational hierarchy were scientists and mathematicians who devised the formulas. Next were workers who created the instructions for doing the calculations. At the bottom were about ninety "computers" (as they were called) who were not trained in mathematics, but who followed the instructions."[2]

Getting such a massive work published proved to be difficult and in fact the tables were never published in full and it was near the end of the century before even a part appeared.

One of de Prony's important scientific inventions was the 'de Prony brake' which he invented in 1821 to measure the performance of machines and engines. He also was first to propose using a reversible pendulum to measure gravity, which was independently invented in 1817 by Henry Kater and became known as the Kater's pendulum.

He also created a method of converting sinusoidal and exponential curves into a systems of linear equations. Prony estimation is used extensively in signal processing and finite element modelling of non linear materials [3] .

He was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1810.


1. ^ Grier, David Alan. When Computers Were Human. Princeton University Press. 1980. pp. 36.
2. ^ Grier, David Alan. When Computers Were Human. Princeton University Press. 1980. pp. 33-39.
3. ^ LS-DYNDA Keyword Manual. Livermore Software Technology Corporation. 2009. pp289

See also

* Prony equation

External links

* O'Connor, John J.; Robertson, Edmund F., "Gaspard de Prony", MacTutor History of Mathematics archive, University of St Andrews, http://www-history.mcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/Biographies/De_Prony.html .
* Blog
* Prony Estimation

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