On this day in oil and gas: March 21 - Fourier

Tim Haïdar

21st March 1768, Auxerre, Burgundy, The Kingdom of France– A son is born into the household of a tailor in the heart of France. The ninth of twelve children, his childhood is strained and fraught with tragedy - by his tenth birthday he is an orphan. Taken into the Benedictine Order of the Convent of St. Mark, his education is patronised by the music master from the cathedral and he soon shows a gift for mathematics.

At 19, he enters the priesthood at the Benedictine abbey of St Benoit-sur-Loire but would not take his full religious vows in favour of joining the local Revolutionary Committee at the age of 25.

Arrested during the Reign of Terror that would sweep the country in 1794 and claim 42,000 lives, the demise of Robespierre spared him the guillotine. Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier would go on to study under the leading lights of the French intellectual elite and even become a scientific advisor to Napoleon Bonaparte himself.

In 1822, at the age of 54 and as Permanent Secretary of the French Academy of Sciences, he would publish Thêorie analytique de la chaleur (The Analytic Theory of Heat). In this seminal work he would outline several theories of thermal conduction and propose his partial differential equation for conductive diffusion of heat – an equation now taught to every student of mathematical physics.

Oh, and in 1827 he would also be the first person to suggest the existence of what would become known as "the greenhouse effect". Pretty important for our industry and not bad for the orphaned son of a trousersmith, eh?