# Pedro Nunes

*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pedro_Nunes*

Pedro Nunes | |
---|---|

Born | 1502 |

Died | 11 August 1578 (aged 76) |

Nationality | Portuguese |

Occupation | Mathematician, cosmographer, and professor |

Signature | |

**Pedro Nunes** (Portuguese:
[ˈpedɾu ˈnunɨʃ];
Latin: *Petrus Nonius*; 1502 – 11 August 1578)^{
[1]} was a
Portuguese
mathematician,
cosmographer, and
professor, from a
New Christian (of
Jewish origin) family.^{
[2]}^{
[3]}

Considered one of the greatest mathematicians of his time,^{
[4]} Nunes is best known for his contributions to the nautical sciences (navigation and cartography), which he approached, for the first time, in a mathematical way. He was the first to propose the idea of a
loxodrome, and was the inventor of several measuring devices, including the
nonius (from which
Vernier scale was derived), named after his Latin surname.^{
[5]}

## Life

Little is known about Nunes' early education, life or family background, only that he was born in
Alcácer do Sal, his origins are
Jewish and that his grandchildren spent a few years behind bars after they were accused by the
Portuguese Inquisition of professing and secretly practicing Judaism.^{
[6]} He studied at the
University of Salamanca, maybe from 1521 until 1522, and at the University of Lisbon (this University later become the
University of Coimbra) where he obtained a degree in
medicine in 1525. In the 16th century medicine used
astrology, so he also learned
astronomy and
mathematics.^{
[5]}

He continued his medical studies but held various
teaching posts within the
University of Lisbon, including
Moral,
Philosophy,
Logic and
Metaphysics. When, in 1537, the Portuguese University located in
Lisbon returned to
Coimbra, he moved to the re-founded University of Coimbra to teach mathematics, a post he held until 1562.^{
[7]} This was a new post in the University of Coimbra and it was established to provide instruction in the technical requirements for navigation: clearly a topic of great importance in
Portugal at this period, when the control of sea trade was the primary source of Portuguese wealth. Mathematics became an independent post in 1544.^{
[5]}

In addition to teaching he was appointed Royal Cosmographer in 1529 and Chief Royal Cosmographer in 1547: a post which he held until his death.^{
[5]}

In 1531, King
John III of Portugal charged Nunes with the education of his younger brothers Luís and
Henry. Years later Nunes was also charged with the education of the king's grandson, and future king,
Sebastian.^{
[5]}

While at the University of Coimbra, future astronomer
Christopher Clavius attended Pedro Nunes' classes, and was influenced by his works.^{
[5]} Clavius, proponent of the
Gregorian Calendar, the greatest figure of the Colégio Romano, the great center of Roman Catholic knowledge of that period, classified Nunes as “supreme mathematical genius".^{
[6]} Nunes died in
Coimbra.

## Work

Pedro Nunes lived in a transition period, during which science was changing from valuing theoretical knowledge (which defined the main role of a scientist/mathematician as commenting on previous authors), to providing
experimental data, both as a source of information and as a method of confirming theories. Nunes was, above all, one of the last great commentators,^{
[8]} as is shown by his first published work “Tratado da Esfera”, enriched with comments and additions that denote a profound knowledge of the difficult cosmography of the period.^{
[6]} He also acknowledged the value of experimentation.

In his *Tratado da sphera* he argued for a common and universal diffusion of knowledge.^{
[9]} Accordingly, he not only published works in
Latin, at that time science's
lingua franca, aiming for an audience of European scholars, but also in
Portuguese, and
Spanish (*Livro de Algebra*).

Much of Nunes' work related to
navigation. He was the first to understand why a ship maintaining a steady
course would not travel along a
great circle, the shortest path between two points on Earth, but would instead follow a
spiral course, called a
loxodrome.^{
[6]} The later invention of
logarithms allowed
Leibniz to establish
algebraic equations for the loxodrome.^{
[10]} These lines —also called
rhumb lines— maintain a fixed angle with the
meridians. In other words, loxodromic curves are directly related to the construction of the Nunes
connection —also called navigator connection.^{
[11]}

In his *Treaty defending the sea chart*, Nunes argued that a
nautical chart should have its
parallels and meridians shown as straight lines. Yet he was unsure how to solve the problems that this caused: a situation that lasted until
Mercator developed the
projection bearing his name. The
Mercator Projection is the system which is still used.

### Geometry

Nunes also solved the problem of finding the day with the shortest
twilight duration, for any given position, and its duration.^{
[6]} This problem *per se* is not greatly important, yet it shows the geometric genius of Nunes as it was a problem which was independently tackled by
Johann and
Jakob Bernoulli more than a century later with less success.^{
[12]} They could find a solution to the problem of the
shortest day, but failed to determine its duration, possibly because they got lost in the details of
differential calculus which, at that time, had only recently been developed. The achievement also shows that Nunes was a pioneer in solving maxima and minima problems, which became a common requirement only in the next century using differential calculus.^{
[13]}

### Cosmology

He was probably the last major mathematician to make relevant improvements^{[
according to whom?]} to the
ptolemaic system (a
geocentric model describing the relative motion of the Earth and Sun). However, this lost importance because
Copernicus introduced his
heliocentric system theory around the same time. Nunes knew Copernicus' work but referred only briefly to it in his published works, with the purpose of correcting some mathematical errors.

Most of Nunes' achievements were possible because of his profound understanding of spherical trigonometry and his ability to transpose Ptolemy's adaptations of Euclidean geometry to it.

### Inventions

Nunes worked on several practical nautical problems concerning
course correction as well as attempting to develop more accurate devices to determine a ship's position.^{
[13]}

He created the
nonius to improve the
astrolabe's accuracy. This consisted of a number of
concentric circles traced on the astrolabe and dividing each successive one with one fewer divisions than the adjacent outer circle. Thus the outermost
quadrant would comprise 90° in 90 equal divisions, the next inner would have 89 divisions, the next 88 and so on. When an angle was measured, the circle and the division on which the
alidade fell was noted. A table was then consulted to provide the exact measure.^{[
citation needed]}

The nonius was used by
Tycho Brahe, who considered it too complex. The method inspired improved systems by
Christopher Clavius and
Jacob Curtius.^{
[14]} These were eventually improved further by
Pierre Vernier in 1631, which reduced the nonius to the
Vernier scale that includes two scales, one of them fixed and the other movable. Vernier himself used to say that his invention was a perfected nonius and for a long time it was known as the “nonius”, even in France.^{
[6]} In some languages, the Vernier scale is still named after Nunes, for example * nonieskala* in Swedish.

Pedro Nunes also worked on some mechanics problems, from a mathematical point of view.

## Influence

Nunes was very influential internationally, e.g. on the work of
John Dee and
Edward Wright.^{
[15]}

## Honours

- One of the best known
Lisbon public Secondary/High Schools is named after Pedro Nunes,
*Escola Secundária de Pedro Nunes*(teaching 7th to 12th grade). It was founded, in 1906, as*Lyceu Central da 3ª Zona Escolar de Lisboa*(*Central Liceum of the 3rd School Area of Lisbon*). Over the years had known several designations: Lyceu Central de Pedro Nunes (1911–1930), Liceu Normal de Lisboa (1930–1937), Liceu Pedro Nunes (1937–1956), Liceu Normal de Pedro Nunes (1956–1978) and Escola Secundária de Pedro Nunes (1978–present^{ [update]}), but is still popularly known as Liceu Pedro Nunes. Many well known Portuguese personalities have studied in Pedro Nunes. The current headquarters commemorated its centenary in 2011, after being totally refurbished and modernized between 2008 and 2010. - He was featured on 100 escudos coins.
- The
Instituto Pedro Nunes in
Coimbra, a business incubator and a center of innovation and technology transfer founded by the University of Coimbra, is named after Pedro Nunes.
^{[ citation needed]} - Asteroid
5313 Nunes is named after him
^{[ citation needed]} - TAP Portugal Airlines has named an Airbus A330-202 airplane after him, registered CS-TOP.

## Bibliography

Pedro Nunes translated, commented and expanded some of the major works in his field, and he also published original research.

Commented and expanded translations:

*Tratado da sphera com a Theorica do Sol e da Lua*(Treaty about the Sphere with Theory of the Sun and the Moon), (1537). From*Tractatus de Sphæra*by Johannes de Sacrobosco,*Theoricae novæ planetarum*by Georg Purbach and the*Geography*by Claudius Ptolemaeus.

Original work:

*Tratado em defensam da carta de marear*(Treatise Defending the Sea Chart), (1537).*Tratado sobre certas dúvidas da navegação*(Treatise about some Navigational Doubts), (1537)*De crepusculis*(About the Twilight), (1542).*De erratis Orontii Finæi*(About the Errors of Orontius Finæus), (1546).*Petri Nonii Salaciensis Opera*, (1566). Expanded, corrected and reedited as*De arte adque ratione navigandi*in 1573.*Livro de algebra en arithmetica y geometria*(Book of Algebra in Arithmetics and Geometry), (1567).

Some modern reprints:

*Obras*(4 vol.), Academia das Ciências de Lisboa, Lisboa, 1940-1960 (No ISBN at the books' record at the Portuguese National Library)*Obras*(6 vol.), Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisboa, 2002-2011, ISBN 972-31-0985-9 and ISBN 972-31-1084-9 (more volumes are likely to be published)

## Notes

**^**http://galileo.rice.edu/Catalog/NewFiles/nunez.html**^**Martins, Jorge,*Portugal e os Judeus*(3 vol.), Nova Vega, Lisboa, 2006, ISBN 972-699-847-6**^**J J O'Connor (November 2010). "Pedro Nunes Salaciense". Retrieved 2015-11-20.**^**Pedro Nunes (1502-1578)- ^
^{a}^{b}^{c}^{d}^{e}^{f}O'Connor, J. J.; Robertson, E. F. (November 2010). "Biography of Pedro Nunes Salaciense". School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of St Andrews, Scotland. Retrieved 2014-04-08. - ^
^{a}^{b}^{c}^{d}^{e}^{f}Pedro Nunes – A mathematician in a country of navigators **^**"Pedro Nunes (1502-1578)".*www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk*. Retrieved 2019-02-08.**^**Fernández, V.V.; Rodrigues Jr., W.A. (2010),*Gravitation as a Plastic Distortion of the Lorentz Vacuum*, Berlin Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag, p. 5, arXiv: 0909.4472, Bibcode: 2010gpdl.book.....F, doi: 10.1007/978-3-642-13589-7, ISBN 978-3-642-13589-7**^**«*o bem, quanto mais comum e universal, tanto é mais excelente*» quoted by Calafate, Pedro (see above)**^**Science in the Spanish and Portuguese empires, 1500-1800**^**In mathematics, Nunes connection is an example of connection which Cartan showed to Einstein in 1922 when he visited Paris.**^**Prelúdio para uma história: ciência e tecnologia no Brasil- ^
^{a}^{b}Pedro Nunes (1502 - 1578)(Science) **^**Daumas Maurice,*Scientific Instruments of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries and Their Makers*, Portman Books, London 1989 ISBN 978-0-7134-0727-3**^**Almeida, Bruno & Leitão, Henrique (2009). "Edward Wright and Pedro Nunes".*Pedro Nunes (1502 - 1578)*. Centre for the History of Sciences, Lisbon University. Retrieved 17 October 2011.

## References

- Mourão, Ronaldo Rogério de Freitas,
*Dicionário das Descobertas*, Pergaminho, Lisboa, 2001, ISBN 972-711-402-4 - Dias, J. S. da Silva,
*Os descobrimentos e a problemática cultural do século XVI*(3rd ed.), Presença, Lisboa, 1988 -
Calafate, Pedro,
*Pedro Nunes*, at Instituto Camões' site (in Portuguese) - Printed works of Pedro Nunes in the 16th century, at Portuguese National Library (in Portuguese)

## External links

- 1502 births
- 1578 deaths
- Sephardi Jews
- Portuguese mathematicians
- Portuguese Renaissance humanists
- Portuguese Renaissance writers
- 16th-century mathematicians
- Portuguese geographers
- Scientific instrument makers
- University of Coimbra alumni
- University of Salamanca alumni
- University of Salamanca faculty
- Jewish Portuguese writers
- Jewish inventors
- 16th-century Portuguese people
- Portuguese exploration in the Age of Discovery
- People from Setúbal District
- People from Coimbra
- School of Salamanca
- Portuguese inventions