Johann(III) Bernoulli was a son of Johann(II) Bernoulli. He was certainly
considered a prodigy when a child with an encyclopedic knowledge and, like many
other members of his extraordinarily talented family, he studied law and took
an interest in mathematics.

At the early age of fourteen he graduated with the
degree of master of law. He was appointed to a chair at Berlin Academy at the
age of only 19. Frederick II asked him to revive the astronomical observatory
of the Academy but this was not a task for which Johann(III) was particularly
well suited. His health had never been particularly good and his qualities as
an astronomical observer were relatively poor.

Johann(III) Bernoulli wrote a number of works on
astronomy, reporting on astronomical observations and calculations, but these
are of little importance. Strangely his most important contributions were the
accounts of his travels in Germany which were to have a historical impact.

In the field of mathematics he worked on probability, recurring decimals and the
theory of equations. As in his astronomical work there was little of lasting
importance. He did, however, publish the Leipzig Journal for Pure and Applied
Mathematics between 1776 and 1789.

He was well aware of the famous mathematical line from
which he was descended and he looked after the wealth of mathematical writings
that had passed between members of the family. He sold the letters to the
Stockholm Academy where they remained forgotten about until 1877. At that time
when these treasures were examined, 2800 letters written by Johann(III) Bernoulli
himself were found in the collection.

J J O'Connor and E F Robertson

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