Born: 22 June 1864 in Alexotas, Russian Empire (now
Died: 12 Jan 1909 in Göttingen, Germany
Hermann Minkowski studied at the Universities of
Berlin and Königsberg. He received his doctorate in 1885 from
Königsberg. He taught at several universities, Bonn, Königsberg and
Zurich. In Zurich, Einstein was a student in several of the courses he gave.
Minkowski accepted a chair in 1902 at the University
of Göttingen, where he stayed for the rest of his life. At Göttingen
he learnt mathematical physics from Hilbert and his associates. He participated
in a seminar on electron theory in 1905 and he learnt the latest results and
theories in electrodynamics.
By 1907 Minkowski realised that the work of Lorentz
and Einstein could be best understood in a non-euclidean spave. He considered
space and time, which were formerly thought to be independent, to be coupled
together in a four-dimensional 'space-time continuum'. Minkowski worked out a
four-dimensional treatment of electrodynamics. His major works in this area are
Raum und Zeit (1907) and Zwei Abhandlungen über die Grundgleichungen der
This space-time continuum provided a framework for all
later mathematical work in relativity. These ideas were used by Albert Einstein
in developing the general theory of relativity.
Minkowski was mainly interested in pure mathematics
and spent much of his time investigating quadratic forms and continued fractions.
His most original achievement, however, was his 'geometry of numbers'. This
study led on to work on convex bodies and to questions about packing problems,
the ways in which figures of a given shape can be placed within another given
At the young age of 44, Minkowski died suddenly from a
J J O'Connor and E F Robertson
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