Tom Whiteside

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Tom Whiteside
Born (1932-07-23)23 July 1932
Died 22 April 2008(2008-04-22) (aged 75)
Residence United Kingdom
Awards Koyré Medal (1968)
FBA (1975)
George Sarton Medal (1977)[1]
Scientific career
Thesis Patterns of mathematical thought in the later seventeenth century (1961)
Doctoral advisor Richard Braithwaite and Michael Hoskin[2][3]

Derek Thomas "Tom" Whiteside FBA (23 July 1932 – 22 April 2008[4]) was a British historian of mathematics.


Whiteside was an authority on the work of Isaac Newton and editor of the eight volumes of the mathematical papers of Isaac Newton. From 1987 to his retirement in 1999, he was the Professor of History of Mathematics and Exact Sciences at Cambridge University. Whiteside wrote a 19-page non-technical account, Newton the Mathematician.[5] In this essay he describes Newton's mathematical development starting in secondary school. Whiteside says that the most important influence on Newton's mathematical development was Book II of René Descartes's La Géométrie. [6] Book II is devoted to a problem that had been considered and partly solved by Pappus of Alexandria and Apollonius of Perga. Descartes completely solved the problem, inventing new mathematics as needed. The problem is this: Given n lines L, with points P(L) on them, find the locus of points Q, such that the lengths of the line segments QP(C) satisfy certain conditions. For example, if n = 4, given lines a, b, c, and d and a point A on a, B on b, and so on, find the locus of points Q such that the product QA*QB equals the product QC*QD. When the lines are not all parallel, Pappus had shown that the locus of points Q was a conic section. Descartes considered larger n, allowing some lines to be parallel, and he obtained cubic and higher degree curves. He was able to do this by producing the equation that the points of Q satisfy, using the Cartesian coordinate system. The rest of Descartes' Book II is occupied with showing that the cubic curves arise naturally in the study of optics from the Snell-Descartes Law. Newton developed an interest in optics. Newton was inspired to undertake the classification of cubic curves, and he identified 72 of the 78 different species.[7][8][9]

Tom Whiteside had two children, Simon and Philippa, with his wife Ruth.[10]


  1. ^ Professor Tom Whiteside, 1932-2008, Cambridge University Department of History and Philosophy of Science, retrieved 2009-05-02 
  2. ^ "Professor Tom Whiteside", The Times, 2008-05-07 
  3. ^ Hoskin, Michael (August 2008), "DEREK THOMAS WHITESIDE (1932–2008)", Journal for the History of Astronomy, 39 (136): 402–404 
  4. ^ Bursill-Hall, Piers (2008-05-03), "Professor D. T. Whiteside: Historian of mathematics whose prodigious work on Newton's papers astonished the scholarly world", The Independent, retrieved 2008-07-17 
  5. ^ Zev Bechler, editor, Contemporary Newtonian Research, pp. 109-127, Studies in the History of Modern Science volume 9, 1982, D. Reidel Publishing Co, Dordrecht, Holland, Boston, USA, London, England.
  6. ^ The Geometry of Rene Descartes (Dover Books on Mathematics) by Rene Descartes, David Eugene Smith and Marcia L. Latham (Jun 1, 1954).
  7. ^ Robert Bix, Conics and Cubics, Springer Verlag, p. 128 et seq, 2nd edition, 2006
  8. ^ Fleming, Craig (2008-05-01), "Maths prof from Blackpool slums dies", The Blackpool Gazette 
  9. ^ "University offices vacated during the academical year 1998-99". Cambridge University Reporter. 21 September 1999. Retrieved 29 September 2011. 
  10. ^ Shapiro, Alan (2008-05-05), "DT Whiteside", The Guardian