This site has been archived for historical purposes. These pages are no longer being updated.
Roger Joseph Boscovich,S.J.
Some notes on the works of Roger Boscovich
Two hundred years ago February 13, 1787 the Croatian Jesuit mathematician Roger Boscovich,S.J. died. He developed the first coherent description of atomic theory in his work Theoria Philosophiae Naturalis , which is one of the great attempts to understand the structure of the universe in a single idea. He held that bodies could not be composed of continuous matter, but of countless "point-like structures". In this work he states that the ultimate elements of matter are indivisible points "atoms", which are centers of force and this force varies in proportion to distance. What is remarkable is that his works appeared well over a century before the birth of modern atomic theory.
Robert Marsh, the author of Physics and Poets, credits Boscovich with the idea of a FIELD: Faraday and others took the idea from him. His influence on modern atomic physics is undoubted.
Boscovich was a creative scientist and his inventions included the ring micrometer and an achromatic telescope. He was the first one to apply probability to the theory of errors. Later mathematicians such as Laplace and Gauss acknowledged their indebtedness to his pioneering work which led to Legendre's principle of least squares.
The 500 dinar Croatian note honors Roger Joseph Boscovich,S.J.
Well known all over Europe, Boscovich was later made a Fellow of the Royal Society of London and today the name Boscovich is found on maps of the moon since a rather large lunar crater was named in his honor. Because of his prominence as a scholar, it was his influence that minimized the hostility of Catholic churchmen to the Copernican system.
Russian scientists have always shown a strong interest in his work and more recently western scientists have become better acquanted with his contributions. This resurgence of interest in his works is evident from a host of recent books and articles. His legacy has been preserved in the special Boscovich Archives in the Rare Boooks library at the University of California in Berkeley. Amoung the 180 items housed there are found not only many of his 66 scientific treatices, but also correspondence with other mathematicians such as Euler, D'Lambert, Lagrange, Laplace, Jacobi and Bernoulli.
It was assumed then as now that mathematicians have the practical sense to fix intricate things such as clocks, so he was commissioned by popes and emperors to repair the alarming fissures in the cupola of the Milan Cathedral, to reinforce the dome of Saint Peter's Basilica, to direct the drainage of the Pontine marshes, and to survey the meridian of the Papal states.
Born in Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia in 1711 Boscovich lived a long fruitful life and was one of the last renowned polymaths.Incisive in thought, bold in spirit, and independent in judgement he was a man of the eighteenth-century in some respects, but far ahead of his time in others.