Voltaire Residence

This page shows people who were in the life of Emilie du Châtelet.

Alexis-Claude Clairaut
born: 1713
died: 1765

Alexis Clairaut was a member of the French Academie des Sciences. He is important in Emilie du Chatelet's life because he was her tutor and helped with her translation of Isaac Newton's Principia from Latin into French by proofreading her work and verifying her calculations. Emilie completed her manuscript just prior to her death in 1749. Voltaire paid to have her translation of the Principia published in 1759, and it remains the authoritative French translation of Newton's work.

Alexis-Claude Clairaut was one of the most renown mathematicians and physicists of the 18th century. At age 10, Alexis knew infinitesimal calculus, at twelve he submitted his first paper to the Academie des Sciences, and at eighteen he published a book containing important additions to geometry that won him membership in the Academie in 1731.

Clairaut was one of the scientists who accompanied Maupertuis to Lapland to collect data that was used to determine the shape of the earth. In 1743 he published his Theorie de la figure de la terre (Theory on the shape of the earth) that calculated, more precisely than Newton had done, the form that a rotating body mechanically assumes from the natural gravitation of its parts.

In 1760, he published his Theorie du movement des cometes (Theory on the Movement of Comets) which successfully predicted the date that Halley's comet would reach a point nearest the sun.

Emilie's translation of Newton's Principia included an explanation of Clairaut's additions to Newton's work on the refraction of light (1739) and on the shape of the earth (1740).

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