The New Student's Reference Work/Arago, Francois Jean Dominique
Ar'ago (är' ȧ–go), Francois Jean Dominique (born 1786, died 1853). A leading man of science in France during the first half of the 19th century, he was distinguished alike in astronomy and in physics. At the early age of 23, he had acquired a brilliant reputation by three years of strenuous labor and hardship spent in determining the length of the earth's meridian from Dunkirk to Barcelona. In this work he was assisted by Biot; and from the measures of these two men was computed the distance from the pole to the equator of the earth. Our international standard of length, the metre, is one ten-millionth part of this quadrant. In 1809, Arago was appointed to the Paris observatory where he spent the remainder of his life. In 1816 he joined hands with Gay-Lussac in founding the great French journal, Annales de Chimie et de Physique. It was about this time that Arago "discovered Fresnel," and made it possible for the latter to carry out his investigations in optics. In this manner Arago, perhaps, did more to establish the wave theory of light than by his own experiments, which, however, were a contribution of no mean order. In 1830, he became director of the Observatory and member of the chamber of deputies. A little later he held, at the same time, the portfolios of minister of war and minister of marine. His lectures on astronomy and his eulogies on deceased members of the Academy of Sciences are models of clearness and elegance. Arago's works are published in 17 octavo volumes. The first of these opens with his Histoire de ma Jeunesse, which is already a classic among autobiographies, and should be read by everyone interested in the development of this remarkable man.