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posted: 6/16/2014 11:52 AM

Calculus invented in heated competition between Newton, von Leibniz

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  • Calculus was invented more than 300 years ago by two mathematicians -- Sir Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz.

       Calculus was invented more than 300 years ago by two mathematicians -- Sir Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

 

You wanted to know

"Who was the person who discovered/created calculus BC?" asked a young patron at Vernon Area Library in Lincolnshire.

Calculus was invented more than 300 years ago by two mathematicians -- Sir Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz.

The building blocks of calculus, which measures rate of change using equations called derivatives and area using equations called integrals, were developed in ancient Egypt, Greece, India, the Middle East and China.

Basically, calculus proves comparisons of quantities and allows you to measure and determine points on curves without seeing the entire curved object. As a result, by using calculus, you can find answers to questions in fields as varied as physics, statistics, engineering, rocketry, chemistry and even economics.

The study of calculus in high school is divided into two sessions, generally offered first semester and second semester, called Calc AB and Calc BC.

"There are two big ideas: tangent lines and areas. In algebra, you can write the equation of a line given two points," said Rick Brenner, a math teacher and math team coach at Libertyville High School. "But how do you do that with one point on a curve? That's Calc I (AB). How do you find the area of shapes that are not polygons? That's Calc II (BC)."

Fan rivalries between the Cubs and White Sox are a friendly walk around the bases compared to the curve ball that placed Newton and von Leibniz in constant competition.

Both brilliant mathematicians worked on breakthrough formulas that led to the development of calculus about the same time, but von Leibniz was first to publish his findings. Not to be outdone, Newton and his supporters claimed von Leibniz copied Newton's concepts.

"Many people credit Newton with the discovery of calculus, but it was sort of coinvented by Sir Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz," Brenner said.

"Some think von Leibniz stole Newton's work. Some think Newton dropped some hints that von Leibniz ran with. Newton did not publish his work while he worked on it -- it was published decades later. This caused quite a controversy in the early 1700s. Today, we actually use many of von Leibniz's ideas and notations."

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