The Unruly Bernoullis: A Mathematical Dynasty

From 1623 to 1790 in the Netherlands and Switzerland

“Great Bernoulli family Swiss
To math never gave a miss
And 'twas always a fight
As to who had the right
To publish which, what and this."

(Quoted from Mathematics From the Birth of Number, Jan Guilberg)

" would be better for the true physics if there were no mathematicians on earth." 

    Daniel Bernoulli, quoted in The Mathematical Intelligencer (1991).

The Bernoulli family produced nine outstanding mathematicians / physicists in three generations. If you ever wondered if mathematical genius is passed on through your genes from your family, or if it is learned, this is one story that seems to show that at least a good part of it really is in your genetic code. The family also produced many other very successful members in law, scholarship, science, literature, and the arts. None were failures. Strangely, as the mathematical ability was handed down generation after generation, it seems most of them tried to avoid being mathematicians! 

Having so many geniuses in the family can be hazardous to family relationships. Competitiveness among even father and son created problems between family members striving for recognition in an age when having the right to claim an idea was a marker of success and even financial prosperity.

Daniel Bernoulli's MacTutor biography (click from there to see the Bernoulli family tree)

Daniel Bernoulli is known for having discovered and developed Bernoulli's Principle, which states that as the speed of a moving fluid increases, the pressure within the fluid decreases. This is the principle that all aviation engineering is based upon.

Activities and Links

Animated Demo of Bernoulli's Principle

Flight activities based on Beroulli's Principle for K-8:

Physics Activity based on Bernoulli's Principle for High School Students

"Bernoulli Bag" activity - easy to do!

"Plane Math" Activities - these are fun, varied, lots of activities, games and quizzes linked:

Allstar Aeronautics Activites for middle school on up:

Aeronautics Activities for K-8 kids:

NASA site: High school level activities based on Bernoulli's Equation

Teaching Engineering - Activities linked from this page for Beroulli principle, Grades 4 - 6:
1)  Can You Take the Pressure?
2)  May the Force Be With You - Lift
3)  May the Force Be With You - Thrust
4)  May the Force Be With You - Weight

Physics Mini-Lab for Gr. 10-12 to Introduce Bernoulli physics

Elementary Activity to understand the Bernoulli physics

Science of Sports: Better Baseball PBS activity linking Bernoulli Principle with Baseball

Casual Patterns in Air Pressure Phenomena - Teacher Resource site produced by Harvard that is surprisingly accessible

Bubble-ology and Bernoulli - activity for upper elementary