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From Artilleryman to Head of State: How Astronomy Inspired François Arago
Francois Arago studied maths at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris in order to be an artillery officer. His adventurous experiences with astronomy during what we would call a gap year in 1806-08 during the Napoleonic Wars inspired him into a scientific career in which he became the scientific director of the Paris Observatory and the Secretary of the Academie des Sciences. He introduced Foucault’s pendulum, leading to crowds of Parisians gawping at the rotation of the Earth and arranged for the French nation to buy Daguerre’s invention. He was briefly Head of State in 1848, a level attained by few other astronomers. I will outline his adventures and career as an exemplar of the inspiration of astronomy.