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Pafnuty Chebyshev, Steam Engines, and Polynomials by John Albert

Summary: Pafnuty Chebyshev, Steam Engines, and Polynomials
by John Albert
OU Mathfest, January 2009
1. Pafnuty Chebyshev
Pafnuty Chebyshev was born in the town of Borovsk, Russia (about 100 kilometers southwest of Moscow)
in 1821. Not far from his birthplace is a monastery founded by his namesake, Saint Paphnutius of Borovsk,
in 1444. In fact the name Paphnutius, which is Coptic for "man of God", has a long and hallowed history,
having been attached to a number of well-known personages over the centuries, dating back to the early days
of Christianity in Egypt. The name Chebyshev, on the other hand, seems to be harder to trace back to its
origins. The Chebyshev family descended from a Tartar military leader named Chebysh, but I am not sure
what this name meant in the language of his day. A web page I came across seemed to suggest that Tartar
clans of the time were sometimes named after birds, and that "chebysh" in particular meant "chicken".
In any case, male members of the Chebyshev family had for generations had military occupations -- but
Pafnuty Chebyshev did not follow in their footsteps, because of the fact that one of his legs was shorter than
the other, which meant that he had to walk with the aid of a stick. Instead, his family, which was well-off in
his youth, paid for him to be educated by illustrious tutors. By the time Chebyshev graduated from Moscow
University at age 20, however, his family had fallen on hard times, and he was forced afterwards to make
his own living. The academic positions he took did not at first afford him much of a salary, and he had to
live very frugally -- a habit which he retained for the rest of his life, even after he became able to live more


Source: Albert, John - Department of Mathematics, University of Oklahoma


Collections: Mathematics