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As always, the March “This Month in Physics History” column in APS News was well documented and very interesting. I would just like to add some information on the biography of Joseph Fourier, for your readers. You write that he “was selected for a new teacher–training school to help rebuild France, where he studied under three of the most prominent French mathematicians, Joseph Louis Lagrange, Pierre-Simon Laplace, and Gaspard Monge".
May I add several points :
• This school was the first Ecole normale founded in 1794 which is still active as the Ecole normale supérieure (Paris). The magnificent lectures of the three mathematicians have recently been edited as the “leçons de mathématiques” under the direction of Jean Dhombres (Dunod) .
• Joseph Fourier also had classes in natural sciences by the crystallographer René Just Haüy, the chemist Claude Louis Berthollet, and the biologist Louis Daubenton. I recently produced a critical edition of the leçons de Physique, de chimie et d'histoire naturelle. (éditions Rue d'Ulm-Paris).
• All the high-level courses, after a revolutionary troubled period, were given to a large number of students. They indeed intended to provide all of France with school teachers. They still offer one of the most remarkable pictures of science a few years after the Encyclopedie was published. The lectures were reproduced to be distributed to all the students two weeks after the classes had been given, together with debates. We have recordings of clever questions asked during the debates by Joseph Fourier.
• Fourier was appointed professor at Ecole Polytechnique just after this initial training. The two “Grandes Ecoles” had been created that same year by the revolutionary Convention.
I thought Michael Lubell’s article, “If it’s broken, fix it,” [Inside the Beltway, APS News, April 2010] was so good that I sent an e-mail to Senator Harry Reid to draw his attention to the article's suggestions of non-partisan redistricting, free TV-ad time, and making filibustering, if called, a burdensome activity.
Falls Church, VA
Please accept my belated commendations on the Back Page by Virginia Corless ("Theater Deepens the Vision of Physics") in the February APS News. As a theater professional and instructor for over twenty years, it is always surprising that most individuals “outside the box” have very little comprehension of how so many systems have to mold together for a successful process. This is what it takes to make a satisfying production and experiment. Ms. Corless hit the nail on the head.
One rarely sees any attention given to the performing arts in such a notable setting. Many thanks for broadening our horizons!
Newport News, VA
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