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13 November 2014

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You are in: Nottingham > History > Local history > Notts treasures: The miller who impressed Einstein

Green's theorem

Notts treasures: The miller who impressed Einstein

Unrecognised in his time, George Green is now regarded as a father of mathematics. His most famous equation is found at Green's Mill.

By any standards George Green was intelligent. By the age of nine he'd left school, not because he was a bad pupil but because he knew as much as his tutors.

This was back in 1802 when you had to pay to be educated. George's dad thought it would be a better option to employ George to do his book keeping.

Facts and figures

Although he worked for his father, and later took over the running of the bakery at Green's Mill in Sneinton, George found his mind concentrating on weightier matters than flour.

In 1823 he joined the Bromley House Library in Nottingham. It was his introduction to the world of learning.

By the age of 35 he'd produced his most famous work - 'An Essay on the Application of Mathematical Analysis to the Theories of Electricity and Magnetism'.

He had to publish it at his own expense. The ideas were unrecognised at the time but are now regarded as a major contribution to mathematics.

Graham Armitage with Green's theorem

Graham Armitage with Green's theorem

Modern legacy

Today, it's hard to ignore George's achievements at Green's Mill.

The windmill has been refurbished and a science centre has been established. All around the science building you'll see his famous equation written on the walls.

If you want to dig deeper the staff there will let you look at a copy of the book that made his name.

What's it all about?

It sounds like something from science fiction but Green's theory helps solve three dimensional problems in a two dimensional way.

Graham Armitage is from the Green's Windmill and Science Centre.

"We have hydrologists come and see us because they use the equation every day.

"They use [the theory] to find out the volume of water [and] the flow of water.

"They say 'we know where the water comes from and where it goes out but underground you don't know where the water is.'"

Getting to grips with Green

The workings of his theory is almost impossible to explain as it's all based on invisible elements.

It confused most of Green's contemporaries. One of his few supporters was Sir Edward Bromhead, a Cambridge University student who came from a wealthy Lincolnshire family.

However, it took Bromhead nearly two years to encourage Green to apply to Cambridge University. He finally became an undergraduate there at the age of 40.

"He was a genius," says Graham Armitage.

"He was on the same level as Newton and Faraday. He now has his plaque in the scientist corner of Westminster Abbey."

Indeed, in 1930 Einstein came to Nottingham to give a talk at the university and commented on Green's contribution to mathematics saying he'd been 20 years ahead of his time.

A mystery

Although he has now been officially recognised, the irony is that there is no picture of Green anywhere in the world, so nobody knows what the great mathematician ever looked like.

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last updated: 14/09/2009 at 09:09
created: 13/05/2009

You are in: Nottingham > History > Local history > Notts treasures: The miller who impressed Einstein

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