Émilie du Châtelet Contributions

Emilie cover

There are basically two rules of life that have either been passed down from generation or people realize them through life experiences. The first rule states that one should always perform one task with a full heart and be perfect at it and don’t pursue two things at once. The second one is that one should always follow the norms, as attracting unnecessary attention towards oneself will only hinder progress. But what if you break both of these rules and still come out victorious in life? Hard to belive but this was made possible by Émilie du Châtelet.

About Émilie du Châtelet

She was born in the city of Paris on 17 December 1706, to her father Louis Nicolas le Tonnelier de Breteuil, who was an officer in the household of Louis XIV and her mother, Gabrielle Anne de Froullay de Breteuil. She was the only girl amongst her siblings, she had 5 brothers out of which 2 died by adulthood, one at a young age and one lived a healthy life. She also had an illegitimate half-sister, who was born of her father and Anne Bellinzona. She got married at the age of 18 to a 34-year-old named Marquis Florent-Claude du Castellet-Lomont, being from a noble family her marriage was arranged as well and as a wedding gift, her husband was made governor of Semur-en-Auxois. She gave birth to three children and in the year 1748 and she met once again with her old childhood friend, Voltaire, who collaborated with her on many scientific studies and always encouraged her to continue her work, they shared a  relationship of mutual respect and being with Voltaire, she left the city and started living in country-side.

Emilie Voltaire

A picture of Émilie du Châtelet and Voltaire.

She began an affair with a poet Jean François de Saint-Lambert and became pregnant. She feared that she wouldn’t survive the pregnancy as written by herself in a letter to a friend and 6 days after giving birth she died on 10 September 1749.

Du Châtelet’s Contributions

Despite being confined by the societal norms and other complications in her life she contributed significantly to the world.

  • Translations: She is famous for being a translator, specifically for translating Newton’s work from the book of Principia. Her translations are still considered as the standard translations of Newton’s laws in France, her commentary goes on to describe Newtonian mechanics along with kinetic energy, and conservation of energy. Her work was not appreciated during her life but 10 years after her death her work was officially published and her translations and commentary on Principia played a vital role in the completion of the Scientific Revolution in France and its overall acceptance in Europe.
  • Mathematics: Du Châtelet received her education in her home and during those times the norm was that girls are not allowed to study science and maths, she was not allowed to study these subjects either. However, as she was growing up she started developing a keen interest in these subjects, much to her mother’s displeasure and she always threatened her to send her away. Despite all of these she was able to study maths from books and scholars, she used to pay for her books and other scientific equipment by engaging in gambling but she always won as she applied her mathematical knowledge to gain an edge over others. She had to halt her studies due to marriage but she continued her study from the age of 26 and went on to be tutored by many famous mathematicians. She added commentary to algebra as well and it was her contributions that made it a norm for girls to learn mathematics.
  • Intense Work: In the era where medical science was not yet evolved to the level of birth control and contraceptives, she became pregnant at the age of 42 and she knew she was going to die soon. She and Voltaire started translating Newton’s work in simple language for people to understand easily but ultimately all the credit was given to Voltaire. Despite this, she continued to translate the Principia and it was more like a race against time for her as she was certain she will be passing away soon. Historians claim that she worked over 18 hours a day during this time and it was this book that became the standard of physics in France.
  • Philosophy: Though she is famous for mathematics and her translations, she was foremost a writer on Natural Philosophy. She strongly believed that verification of knowledge can only be done via experience and emphasized it. Other than her translations, her work includes writing on ethics and theology in a world where God was made a bigger human and ethics were non-existent. Just like mathematics, philosophy was also considered a masculine trait, and only men were allowed to participate in such fields but as you can imagine she was constantly against the norms and did it anyway.
Reason, Illusion, and Passion

Book cover of Reason, Illusion, and Passion by Émilie du Châtelet.

As you can read from the way she lived her life, she was a rebel and had interests in multiple aspects at once. One can even say she was gifted for such a task as even the great minds of today are unable to thoroughly perform at her level despite living in much comfortable and accepting society. Her contributions are invaluable to society.


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