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Émilie du Châtelet

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Émilie du Châtelet is one of the most under-celebrated scientists of the Age of Enlightenment. Born in 1706 in France, she received an unparalleled education at the encouragement of her father. By 12 she was fluent in French, German, Italian, Latin, and Greek. She continued to study mathematics and physics throughout her adult life, and used her mathematical skills to win extra money through gambling. After her death, Voltaire wrote that Émilie was “a great man whose only fault was being a woman.”

She translated Newton’s Principia Mathematica into French, but her greatest contribution to science came from proving one of Newton’s theories wrong. Newton believed the kinetic energy of a moving object was proportional to its velocity while Liebniz proposed the energy was proportional to the velocity squared. Émilie du Châtelet experimentally proved the energy was proportional to the square of the velocity. Émilie’s dedication to understanding the physical world and eagerness to use experiments to investigate physical theory make her an important figure in scientific history.

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