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Two hundred years ago this month, on April 30, 1777, a boy was born to a poor laborer in Brunswick, Germany, who was destined to leave a lasting imprint on mathematics, physics, astronomy, geodesy, and geomagnetism.

Young Carl showed extraordinary promise even at an early age. When Gauss was 10 years old-it is a famous story now—his class was assigned a long exercise in arithmetic, adding up all integers from 1 to 100. As soon as the teacher had finished giving the problem, Gauss wrote an answer on his slate and banged it down: ‘Ligget se,’ he exclaimed. ‘It lies down’ (the slate with the answer), or in other words, finished. Of course Gauss never bothered to carry out the addition; he just noticed that the numbers could be paired, 100 with 1, 99 with 2, etc., 50 pairs in all, each equal to 101, and one simple multiplication did the rest.