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March 29: Helping Einstein

March 28, 2016

220px-Levi-civita-1Tullio Levi-Civita, an Italian mathematician who helped Albert Einstein master the tensor calculus (also known as absolute differential calculus) that he used to explain the theory of relativity, was born in Padua on this date in 1873. Levi-Civita wrote foundational papers in both pure and applied mathematics, celestial mechanics, analytic mechanics, and hydrodynamics. Between 1915 and 1917, he corresponded with Einstein after finding some mathematical errors in the physicist’s use of tensor calculus, which deals with the dynamics of geometrical, multi-dimensional arrays of numerical values.* “It must be nice to ride through these fields upon the horse of true mathematics while the like of us have to make our way laboriously on foot,” Einstein wrote, later noting to an interlocutor that what he liked best about Italy was “spaghetti and Levi-Civita.” A member of many prestigious mathematical societies, Levi-Civita was expelled from Italy’s Academy for being a Jew and an anti-fascist.

“Weyl also used Levi-Civita’s ideas to produce a unified theory of gravitation and electromagnetism. In addition to the important contributions his work made in the theory of relativity, Levi-Civita produced a series of papers treating elegantly the problem of a static gravitational field.” —Today in Science

*Jewdayo apologizes for not being able to provide tidy (or correct) explanations of mathematical concepts, which is one reason why we only rarely feature mathematicians! Readers, please provide comments that illuminate the math, if you can.