Gustave-Gaspard Coriolis

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Gustave-Gaspard Coriolis[1] (21 May 1792, Paris – 19 September 1843, Paris) was a French physicist best known for the description of one of the three inertial forces that a body experiences when viewed from a moving frame of reference.[2] This force is known as the Coriolis force. The other two inertial forces are the centrifugal force and the Euler force. The Coriolis force plays an important role in meteorology, ballistics, and oceanography, where it leads to a deflection of the motion when seen from a rotating frame of reference such as the Earth.

Coriolis is also known for the first clear exposition of the concept of work in physics and its relation to change in kinetic energy.[3]

Coriolis father was an officer in the army of the Ancien Régime, who fled from Paris to Nancy with his family a few months after Gustave's birth. King Louis XVI had been arrested (and would be beheaded half a year later), the monarchy was abolished, and Paris was not a safe place for an officer of the king.

The young Coriolis was brought up in Nancy and attended school there. In 1808 he entered the École Polytechnique in Paris and after graduating he entered the École des Ponts et Chaussées, also in Paris. After completing his engineering degree, he worked for several years in the Meurthe-et-Moselle district and the Vosges mountains. After his father died Coriolis had to support the family and therefore he accepted in 1816 a post as a mathematics tutor at the École Polytechnique.

Coriolis became professor of mechanics at the École Centrale des Arts et Manufactures in 1829, a school that was founded in the same year. In July 1830 there was another revolution in France, and this spurred the great mathematician Augustin-Louis Cauchy to go in exile (September 1830). Coriolis was offered Cauchy's position at the École Polytechnique but refused, because by this time he was highly involved in his research and decided not to take on any further teaching duties.

However, two years later (1832) Coriolis did take on a position at the École des Ponts and Chaussées. He and Navier taught applied mechanics there. Navier died in 1836 and Coriolis was appointed to his chair at the École des Ponts and Chaussées. He was also elected to replace Navier in the mechanics section of the Académie des Sciences. Coriolis died in 1843.


  1. Often one finds Gaspard-Gustave instead of Gustave-Gaspard. However, the website of the École Polytechnique as well as of the Académie des sciences (Paris) gives Gustave first and Gaspard second, hence this is the order used here.
  2. G. Coriolis, Mémoire sur les équations du mouvement relatif des systèmes de corps, Journal royal de l'école polytechnique, vol. 15 pp. 142–154 (1835).Online
  3. G. Coriolis, Du Calcul de l'Effet des Machines, Paris (1829). Also the second edition of 1844 (see Google books) uses the term force vive and not énergie cinétique. In contrast to what is stated in many sources Coriolis did not coin the term kinetic energy. Most likely the term is due to William Thomson and Peter Guthrie Tait (1867).