Blue & Yellow
Blue & Yellow: Mykhailo Ostrogradskyi — A cosmopolitan mathematician whose studies changed science.
November 25, 2022

Introduction: Uncovering Ukraine is a series of short stories about Ukrainians who’ve advanced technology, art, and science to new heights. Check out our other articles in this series.

Mykhailo Ostrogradskyi was a Ukrainian academic whose works not only advanced math, science, and technology but also earned him a spot on UNESCO’s list of outstanding mathematicians of the world.

Mykhailo was born on September 24, 1801, in the village of Pashenyvka (now Kozelshchynsky District, Poltava Region).

The family of the Ostrogradskyi comes from the Cossacks. As a child, Ostrogradskyi stood out among other children from an early age as he was constantly measuring various objects with a stone tied to a rope to serve as a ruler.

Mykhailo received his primary education in a boarding house at the Poltava gymnasium. He did not show any interest in particular subjects, and his grades were average. But this did not prevent him from later becoming a student of the Faculty of Physics and Mathematics of Kharkiv University in 1817.

By 1820, Ostrogradskyi had cultivated his academic talents and became the top student at the university. He earned the degree of candidate of sciences, which is the first of two doctoral-level scientific degrees.

Despite his excellent marks, part of the professorship opposed his accreditation, and Ostrogradsky was deprived of his rank. This, however, did not deter him from trying again. A year later he passed a new set of exams and The Council again awarded him a Candidate of Sciences.

Once again, politics reared its head and the Minister of National Education did not approve of Ostrogradskyi’s distinction. Ostrogradskyi was offered to take the exam again. But here Mikhailo’s patience reached its limit. He refused to take the exams a third time and asked his name be removed from the list of students.

In 1822, he went to Paris, where he spent six years studying at the Royal College. There he listened to lectures by Ampere, Cauchy, Laplace, Poisson, Fourier, and others.

He quickly excelled in mathematics, especially in integral calculus, for which he received special praise from Cauchy. In 1827, the mathematician left the French capital and began to work for a variety of educational institutions in St. Petersburg.

Ostrogradskyi’s numerous and diverse works in various branches of mathematical sciences earned him fame in many countries. In his memoirs on the field of pure mathematics, Ostrogradskyi developed the general formula for the variation of a multiple integral and the integration of rational functions.

In the field of mechanics, Ostrogradskyi successfully developed Fourier’s idea that the conditions of possible movements should sometimes be expressed by inequalities and introduce relationships that depend on time (1834 p.). He also solved the problem of hydromechanics with regard to the equilibrium of a spherical layer of liquid in an original way.

On December 17, 1828, Ostrogradskyi was elected as an adjunct professor of the Academy of Sciences. Three of his articles on mathematical physics and mathematical analysis were published in specialized publications.

During the same year, several of Ostrogradskyi’s works were published, including those devoted to mechanics, the theory of heat, and the integration of the equations of the theory of elasticity. These works became the basis on which the school of mechanics was built and developed. At the same time, Ostrogradskyi began to teach a course on celestial mechanics.

In 1831, he was elected as an Extraordinary Academician of applied mathematics, The commendation set off a series of prestigious distinctions: In 1834, he was elected as a member of the American Academy of Sciences; in 1841 as a member of the Turin Academy; in 1953 he became a member of the Rome Academy; and in 1856 he became a corresponding member of the Paris Academy.

Ostrogradskyi was a person of high culture, had a perfect command of the French language, and was well acquainted with French classical literature.

Ostrogradskyi’s favorite poet was Taras Shevchenko, almost all of whose poems he knew by heart. Taras Shevchenko later met Ostrogradsky, and, as the poet recalled, he welcomed him into his home “with open arms, and as a member of his family.”

The Kremenchuk Mykhailo Ostrohradskyi National University in Poltava Oblast, as well as Ostrogradsky street in Poltava, are named in his honor.


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