Great Moments in the History of Science

John Napier

Marvelous Murchiston

Four hundred years ago as the century turned to 1600 the Laird of Murchiston castle John Murchiston worked on mathematics.

Alone in his castle he revolutionized mathematical computation.

He did several things,

He invented the decimal point notation,

He developed Napiers bones which are ivory rods that contained multiplication tables.

and he invented one of the most revolutionary ideas in mathematics.

Make a table in one column write the numbers 1,2,3

Next to 1 write 10,next to 2 write 100, next to 3 write 1000

Now think, what is 10 times 100?

well it is 1000 I chose an easy problem, but we can do this another way use the table see that 10 is next to 1 and 100 is next to two, add the 1 and the 2 you get 3 look next to the 3 and find 1000.

You have turned multiplication into addition.

Napier invented the logarithm.

The log of 10 is 1, the log of 100 is 2,

With logarithms multiplication can be turned into addition.

This led to the invention of the sliderule that speeded up mathematics so much that Johanes Kepler could do his calculations and Newton too.

By shortening their labors he doubled the lifetime of astronomers, Laplace 200 years later.

 Scientific Explorations with Paul Doherty © 2006 2 December 2006