Edward Wright (mathematician)
Edward Wright (baptised 8 October 1561; died November 1615) was an English mathematician and cartographer noted for his book Certaine Errors in Navigation (1599; 2nd ed., 1610), which for the first time explained the mathematical basis of the Mercator projection, and set out a reference table giving the linear scale multiplication factor as a function of latitude, calculated for each minute of arc up to a latitude of 75°. This was in fact a table of values of the integral of the secant function, and was the essential step needed to make practical both the making and the navigational use of Mercator charts.
Wright was born at Garveston and educated at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he became a fellow from 1587 to 1596. In 1589 the College granted him leave after Elizabeth I requested that he carry out navigational studies with a raiding expedition organised by the Earl of Cumberland to the Azores to capture Spanish galleons. The expedition's route was the subject of the first map to be prepared according to Wright's projection, which was published in Certaine Errors in 1599. The same year, Wright created and published the first world map produced in England and the first to use the Mercator projection since Gerardus Mercator's original 1569 map.
Not long after 1600 Wright was appointed as surveyor to the New River project, which successfully directed the course of a new man-made channel to bring clean water from Ware, Hertfordshire, to Islington, London. Around this time, Wright also lectured mathematics to merchant seamen, and from 1608 or 1609 was mathematics tutor to the son of James I, the heir apparent Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, until the latter's very early death at the age of 18 in 1612. A skilled designer of mathematical instruments, Wright made models of an astrolabe and a pantograph, and a type of armillary sphere for Prince Henry. In the 1610 edition of Certaine Errors he described inventions such as the "sea-ring" that enabled mariners to determine the magnetic variation of the compass, the sun's altitude and the time of day in any place if the latitude was known; and a device for finding latitude when one was not on the meridian using the height of the pole star.
Apart from a number of other books and pamphlets, Wright translated John Napier's pioneering 1614 work which introduced the idea of logarithms from Latin into English. This was published after Wright's death as A Description of the Admirable Table of Logarithmes (1616). Wright's work influenced, among other persons, Dutch astronomer and mathematician Willebrord Snellius; Adriaan Metius, the geometer and astronomer from Holland; and the English mathematician Richard Norwood, who calculated the length of a degree on a great circle of the earth using a method proposed by Wright.
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