The most important achievement of Emilie du Chatelet was her translation and commentary on Isaac Newton’s book Principia Mathematica. It is still considered the standard French translation and probably helped in advancing science in France.
Her other achievements include her elucidation of the concept of energy and her explanation of the concept of probability. She also conducted experiments that proved that Newton had made some mistakes in his theories.
1. Her translation of Newton’s Principia
The most important achievement of Emilie du Chatelet was her translation of Newton’s Principia into French, which she completed before her death. This was a huge undertaking as she spent 18 hours per day working on the project.
Her translation and commentary included her own notes, examples, derivations and clarifications of Newton’s often obscure writing. It helped French scientists understand and build upon the theories of Newton.
Her mathematical training and the tutelage of several prominent mathematicians allowed her to produce a very thorough, accurate and complete work on this subject. Her extensive knowledge of the works of Newton, Leibniz and Wolff made her an influential figure in the acceptance of Newtonian physics over Cartesian philosophy in France.
2. Her elucidation of the concept of energy
During the 18th century, women had to overcome challenges that kept them from becoming scientists in the conventional sense. They did not have access to university education and did not have the same career paths as men.
Nevertheless, Emilie du Chatelet was a very talented scientist and intellectual in her own right, and she was able to overcome these limitations. She was able to carry out experiments in physics and wrote a translation and commentary of Newton’s Principia, which is now one of the most widely read scientific works of her time.
Her most important achievement was her elucidation of the concept of energy, which is an independent measure of force. This is a breakthrough in the study of physics, and it was one that had profound impact on science.
3. Her elaboration of the concept of probability
Emilie du Chatelet was one of the most important thinkers in the field of natural philosophy during her time. She knew, corresponded with, or was tutored by numerous prominent mathematicians and physicists of her time, including Pierre Louis de Maupertuis, Alexis-Claude Clairaut, Samuel Koenig, and several members of the Bernoulli family.
She specialized in natural philosophy, especially the work of Newton and Leibniz, and she was known for her thorough understanding of their ideas. Her translation of Newton’s Principia became the standard French version, and she added explanations to make it more accessible to European readers.
Her work also addressed a number of other topics, including value theory (in her Preface to her translation of Bernard Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees), language, Biblical criticism, and questions surrounding virtue and happiness. She emphasized the importance of liberty, defended it against claims that it was subservient to male interests, and disapproved of nationalistic views in science. Moreover, she made liberal changes to texts in translation, sometimes developing her own original positions.
4. Her elucidation of the concept of derivatives
Emilie du Chatelet was a talented scientist and intellectual who had a long association with Voltaire. She overcame the challenges of her time to become a successful scientist and author.
She also became the only French woman to complete a translation of Newton’s Principia. Her book, published in 1749, was an important contribution to science in France.
As a young girl, Emilie du Chatelet was fascinated by science and math. Her mother did not approve of her interest but her father encouraged her and arranged for tutors to come to the house. She also participated in discussions with prominent scientists she knew.