Georges – Henri Lemaître – The Priest and the Scientist
Georges – Henri Lemaître was born on July 17, 1894 in Charleroi, Belgium, in a very religious family, which will later also reflect on his life journey. His father, Joseph Lemaître, although he completed law studies, decided to be a glass blower, but returned to Brussels after a fire at a local factory and dedicated his original profession – law. His mother was Merguerite Lannoy Lemaître.
Lemaitre has already decided, at nine years for his life to be interwoven with both science and religion, i.e. to become a priest and a scientist. In an interview with the New York Times, recalling that time, he said that, as he was an excellent student, and especially since he was heavily involved in difficult subjects like mathematics, and he was thrilled with the knowledge he was able to gain in the basic school, it was completely logical, following these things, to pursue a career of a scientist. On the other hand, almost at the same time, and Lemaitre himself says “it seems to me in the same month,” he decided to become a Catholic priest. “The truth from the standpoint of human salvation was also of interest to me, as well as the truth from the point of view of scientific accuracy.”
At the age of seventeen, after studying at the Jesuit School, he began studying at the Catholic University of Luwen in 1914. After the outbreak of the First World War, as a volunteer, he applied to the Belgian army and became an artillery officer. While staying in the army, he reads the work of Henri Poincare’s “Electricity and Optics”, which led him to reflect on his future engineering profession. After the war, Lemaitre was decorated with the Military Cross for his merits during the war.
Upon returning from the war, he returned to the University of Luwen to study mathematics and physics, but he also began to prepare for the priesthood. In 1920, the work of the Approximation of functions of more real variables (L’Approximation des fonctions de plusieurs variables réelles), under the mentorship of Charles de la Valée-Poussin, was published.
Lemaitre became priest in 1923. After receiving the order, he received several scholarships to allow him to study abroad, so in 1923 he became a graduate student of astronomy at the University of Cambridge, spending one year at St. John’s Church. Edmund’s House (today St. Edmund’s College). He met there for the first time and worked with astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington, who introduced him to modern cosmology, star astronomy and numerical analysis. In 1925, Lemetr traveled to the United States, where he attended the Harvard University and the Technical Institute in Massachusetts (MIT), where he was granted a PhD degree. In 1925 he returned to Belgium where he became a lecturer at the University of Luwen.
He begins with the work that will bring international attention to it and will publish it in 1927 in the Analysis of the Scientific Association of Brussels called Homogeneous Universe of Constant Mass and the Rising Radius calculated for radial velocities of extractal nebulae (Annales de la Société scientifique de Bruxelles, Un univers homogène de masse constante et de rayon croissant, rendent compte de la vitesse radiale de nébuleuses extra-galactiques). In his work he presented new ideas about the expansion of the universe in accordance with the general theory of relativity. Lemetr to the conclusion that the universe is expanding comes by observing the “blooming” (red shift) of objects outside our Galaxy. Then the red shift is interpreted as the Doppler effect, which leads us to conclude that these objects are moving away from us.
In the same year, Lemaitre returns to MIT to present his doctoral thesis “Gravitational field in the field of fluid of constant density according to the theory of relativity”. He received a PhD title and was appointed as a full-time professor at the University of Luwen. Lemaitre was invited to London to attend a meeting of the British Association regarding the relation of physical universe and spirituality. It was then that Lemetr conveyed the idea of the expansion of the universe, which begins with the initial singularity, and the idea of the “primordial, primordial, atom” (Primeval Atom), which he developed in his paper published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society). He described his theory as a cosmic egg that explodes at the moment of creation, and it was later called the Big Bang theory.
Lemaitre upgrades his theory of the expansion of the universe in 1933 and publishes a more detailed version, and thus reaches its greatest scientific glory, such that the American newspapers called him the famous Belgians and described him as the leader of the new cosmic physics.
On March 17, 1944, Lemetr received the most important Belgian scientific award (Francqui Prize) from King Leopold III. Another award, awarded by the Belgian government for outstanding scientists, was granted to him in 1950, as a decennial prize for the period between 1933 and 1942. years.
He was elected a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 1936. He took a very active role here, and he became its president in 1960, and remained in office until his death in 1966. He was also nominated for the bishop in 1960 by Pope John XXIII.
Lemaitre was elected a member of the Belgian Royal Academy of Science and Art in 1941. In 1946, he published the book Hypothesis of the “primordial” atoms (L’Hypothèse de l’Atome Primitif). Also, in 1953, he was awarded the first Edinburgh Medal – a prize awarded by the Royal Astronomical Society. At the end of his life, Lemetr devoted himself to algebra and numerical mathematics and showed more and more interest in the “calculators” at the time, so that the development of computers and programming languages would eventually completely overwhelm him.
Georges – Henri Lemaître died on June 20, 1966, after learning that he discovered microwave background radiation, as evidence of his theory of the world’s creation.