List of notable amateur mathematicians

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An amateur mathematician is a person who does mathematics research without remuneration.

When asked, most professional mathematicians express the view that amateurs cannot make serious contributions to the subject because of the amount of prior knowledge required to reach the forefront of research. Indeed, Wikipedia defines a mathematician as someone who uses mathematics in their work, which excludes the very concept of an amateur mathematician as understood here.

However, there are areas where amateurs have proven this view to be incorrect by solving problems that professional scholars have failed to make progress on for decades. Often new insights are found today by using computational methods neglected and undervalued by academics. In today's society there are many lucrative employment opportunities outside academia for individuals with strong mathematical abilities. Many of these people maintain their interest in the subject and should be encouraged to contribute to research.

Criteria for inclusion[edit]

For the purposes of this list we do not include those who made mathematical discoveries as an amateur but who then became professional mathematicians as a result of that work (e.g. George Boole, Srinivasa Ramanujan, Yitang Zhang or the four Cambridge undergraduates who solved the Squaring the square problem). Amateur status does not imply that the person was unqualified, but those who held an academic position in research mathematics in the past would also not be included here. They may be professional researchers in a different subject matter so long as their mathematics research was not part of their funded academic work. They could also count as amateur if they completed a doctorate in mathematics but later made discoveries in mathematics as an amateur. Collaboration with a professional academic would not exclude someone from the list provided it is clear that the amateur mathematician's contribution was significant. Some early astronomers have not been included despite their contributions to pure mathematics because their occupation would have funded the time for their work and at the time the scope of their research would be less well defined. (e.g. John Machin, Thomas Clausen, and Henry Perigal.) School teachers of mathematics up to secondary level can count as amateur mathematicians because they are not funded to do research. Teachers in higher education would not be included.

To be notable they should have made original discoveries in mathematics that are recognised as significant by the mathematics community. For the purposes of this list we require that their mathematical contribution is cited or credited to their name on a Wikipedia page other than their own biography. They do not necessarily have to have their own biographical page on Wikipedia to qualify. It does not matter whether the work is classified as recreational mathematics or not. This is a high-bar, and many people may rightfully consider themselves as amateur mathematicians without meeting this requirement for notability.

Amateurs have made important discoveries throughout history and for the purposes of this list we begin with works from the 16th century. Before then the distinction between professional and amateur was less clear. Communication is important in enabling amateur mathematicians to work and be recognised. In the 17th century Marin Mersenne (who was himself an accomplished amateur mathematician) corresponded with many of the mathematicians of the time, both professional and amateur. His role inspired the foundation of scientific institutions in several countries such as the Royal Society in the UK. These were initially open to amateurs. Their published transactions were the precursors of today's academic journals but these became more difficult to access by amateurs as publishing bodies needed to monetise them. In the 21stb century the internet has made mathematical research accessible to all-comers once more.

16th century[edit]

Gerolamo Cardano 1501-1576 (medical doctor)[edit]

Federico Commandino 1509-1575 (medical doctor)[edit]

John Napier 1550-1617 (land owner)[edit]

17th century[edit]

Marin Mersenne 1588-1648 (theologian)[edit]

Bernard Frénicle de Bessy 1604-1674 (lawyer)[edit]

Pierre de Fermat 1607-1665 (lawyer)[edit]

Blaise Pascal 1623-1662 (heir)[edit]

Giordano Vitale 1633-1711 (soldier)[edit]

Abraham Sharp 1653-1742 (schoolmaster)[edit]

  • Calculation of pi to 71 decimal places

18th century[edit]

Thomas Bayes 1701-1761 (minister)[edit]

John Landen 1719-1790 (land agent)[edit]

Caspar Wessel 1745-1818 (lawyer)[edit]

19th century[edit]

François Budan de Boislaurent 1761-1840 (medic)[edit]

Jean-Robert Argand 1768-1822 (shopkeeper)[edit]

Sophie Germain 1776-1831 (independent)[edit]

George Green 1793-1841 (miller)[edit]

Olinde Rodrigues 1795-1851 (banker)[edit]

Thomas Kirkman 1806-1895 (rector)[edit]

Hermann Grassmann 1809-1877 (school teacher)[edit]

Évariste Galois 1811-1832 (political activist)[edit]

William Shanks 1812-1882 (landlord)[edit]

  • Calculation of pi to 527 correct digits
  • Calculation of e to 205 digits
  • Calculation of Euler's constant to 101 digits

Ada Lovelace 1815-1852 (countess)[edit]

Achille Brocot 1817-1879 (clockmaker)[edit]

James Cockle 1819-1895 (judge)[edit]

Ivan Pervushin 1827-1900 (priest)[edit]

Henri Delannoy 1833-1915 (army officer)[edit]

Artemas Martin 1835-1918 (farmer, schoolteacher)[edit]

Gaston Tarry 1843-1913 (civil servant)[edit]

Jørgen Pedersen Gram 1850-1916 (actuary)[edit]

B. Nicolò I. Paganini 1851- (schoolboy)[edit]

François Proth 1852-1879 (farmer)[edit]

Alfred Kempe 1849-1922 (lawyer)[edit]

Thorold Gosset 1869-1962 (lawyer)[edit]

20th century[edit]

Henry Dudeney 1857-1930 (civil servant)[edit]

James Cullen 1867-1933 (priest, school teacher)[edit]

Henry Cabourn Pocklington 1870-1952 (schoolmaster)[edit]

Alfred Western 1873-1961 (solicitor)[edit]

Ralph Ernest Powers 1875-1852 (railroad employee)[edit]

Laurence Monroe Klauber 1883-1968 (herpetologist)[edit]

Kurt Heegner 1893-1965 (independent scholar)[edit]

Edouard Zeckendorf 1901-1983 (army medic)[edit]

Eugène Ehrhart 1906-2000 (school teacher)[edit]

Leon Bankoff 1908-1997 (dentist)[edit]

David Champernowne 1912-2000 (economist)[edit]

Harry Lindgren 1912-1992 (patent officer)[edit]

Theophilus Willcocks 1912-2014 (banker)[edit]

John Ernest 1922-1994 (artist)[edit]

Marjorie Rice 1923-2017 (homemaker)[edit]

Harvey Dubner 1928-2019 (engineer)[edit]

John Hendricks 1929-2007 (meteorologist)[edit]

Anthony Hill 1930-2020 (artist)[edit]

Lee Sallows 1944 (electronics engineer)[edit]

George Phillips Odom 1941-2010 (artist)[edit]

Lu Jiaxi 1935-1983 (school teacher)[edit]

Robert Ammann 1946-1994 (programmer and postal worker)[edit]

Joan Taylor 1957[edit]

George Woltman 1957 (programmer)[edit]

Kenneth Perko[edit]

Andrew Beal 1952 (banker)[edit]

Marivin Ray Burns[edit]

21st century[edit]

Scott I Chase (director)[edit]

Philip Gibbs 1960 (software engineer)[edit]

Greg Egan 1961 (author)[edit]

Matt Parker 1980 (comedian)[edit]

Aubrey de Grey 1963 (biologist)[edit]

David Smith (print technician)[edit]

Daniel Larsen 2003 (student)[edit]