Al-Khwarizmi was a Persian mathematician and astronomer who spent most of his life in Baghdad. His book on algebra, Kitab al-mukhtasar fi hisab aljabr wa’l-muqabala (The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing), was the first book on the systematic solution of linear and quadratic equations and is sometimes referred to by the shortened title Algebra. Along with Diophantus, he is considered the “father of algebra.” The Latin translation of his works introduced the decimal positional number system to Europe. Interestingly, the word algebra comes from al-jabr, one of the two operations used in his book to solve quadratic equations. For al-Khwarizmi, al-jabr is a method in which we can eliminate negative quantities in an equation by adding the same quantity to each side. For example, we can reduce x2 = 50x − 5×2 to 6×2 = 50x by adding 5×2 to both sides. Al-muqabala is a method whereby we gather quantities of the same type to the same side of the equation. For example,
x2 + 15 = x + 5 is reduced to x2 + 10 = x.
The book helped readers to solve equations such as those of the forms x2 + 10x = 39, x2 + 21 = 10x, and 3x + 4 = x2, but more generally, al-Khwarizmi believed that the difficult mathematical problems could be solved if broken down into a series of smaller steps. Al-Khwarizmi intended his book to be practical, helping people to make calculations that deal with money, property inheritance, lawsuits, trade, and the digging of canals. His book also contained example problems and solutions. Al-Khwarizmi worked most of his life in the Baghdad House of Wisdom, a library, translation institute, and place of learning that was a major intellectual center of the Islamic Golden Age. Alas, the Mongols destroyed the House of Wisdom in 1258, and legend says that the waters of the Tigris ran black with ink from the books tossed into its waters.
(Author is a young scientist with research thrust on neurobiology, genetics and heavy metal pollutants)