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Christiaan Huygens

A portrait of Christiaan Huygens, made in 1686Christiaan Huygens (1629–95) was a Dutch mathematician, astronomer, physicist and inventor. He was the first to use mathematical formulae to describe the laws of physics, including those for centripetal and centrifugal forces. One of his greatest contributions to science was his proposal that light travelled in the form of waves. As an astronomer, Huygens is known for drawing the first map of the surface of Mars, and for his studies of the rings of Saturn and the discovery of its moon, Titan. His astronomical discoveries were made possible by the techniques he and his brother Constantijn invented for making telescope lenses. His invention of the pendulum clock greatly increased the accuracy of clocks, from minutes to seconds per day.

Portrait of Huygens' father (centre) and his five children (Christiaan is on the right)


Christiaan Huygens was born in The Hague, the Netherlands, on 14th April 1629, to a rich and influential Dutch family. His father, Constantijn Huygens, was a poet, composer and diplomat. He had studied natural philosophy (the old name for physics) and had many scientific contacts, including Italian scientist Galileo Galilei (1564–1642), French mathematician, Marin Mersenne (1588–1648) and French philosopher and mathematician René Descartes (1596–1650).

Huygens designed an internal combustion engine that ran on gunpowder in 1680, although he never actually built it.

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