Nicolas Saunderson

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Nicolas Saunderson

Nicolas Saunderson (1682April 9, 1739) was an English scientist and mathematician.

Saunderson was born at Thurlstone, Yorkshire, in January 1682. When about a year old he lost his sight through smallpox; but this did not prevent him from acquiring a knowledge of Latin and Greek, and studying mathematics. In 1707 he began lecturing at Cambridge on the principles of the Newtonian philosophy, and in November 1711 he succeeded William Whiston, the Lucasian professor of mathematics in Cambridge. He was created doctor of laws in 1728 by command of George II, and in 1736 was admitted a member of the Royal Society. He died of scurvy, on the 19th of April 1739.

Saunderson possessed the friendship of many of the eminent mathematicians of the time, such as Sir Isaac Newton, Edmund Halley, Abraham De Moivre and Roger Cotes. His senses of hearing and touch were extraordinarily acute, and he could carry on mentally long arid intricate mathematical calculations. He devised a calculating machine or abacus, by which he could perform arithmetical and algebraic operations by the sense of touch; this method is sometimes termed his palpable arithmetic, an account of which is given in his elaborate Elements of Algebra.

Of his other writings, prepared for the use of his pupils, the only one which has been published is The Method of Fluxions. At the end of this treatise there is given, in Latin, an explanation of the principal propositions of Sir Isaac Newton’s philosophy.

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