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Julio Garavito Armero: precursor of Colombian scientific development

As astronomer Julio Garavito Armero accurately pinpointed the latitude of Bogotá and also provided observations on comet passings between 1901 y 1910, the last Halley’s comet passing and the solar eclipse of February 1916.

Applying principles of stellar mechanics, Garavito calculated the moon fluctuations and their influence over the climate, mostly on water currents, polar ice, and the earth acceleration.

More: Ciudad Universitaria, the origins of Colombian architecture and urbanism (In Spanish.)

A good part of his research on the moon are included in the “Fórmulas definitivas para el cálculo del movimiento de la Luna” (Definitive formulas for calculating moon movement), with such relevance that the International Astronomical Union decided to name a crater to his name on the hidden side of the moon by a suggestion of the Universidad Nacional de Colombia Colombian Astronomical Observatory (OAN, for its Spanish acronym).

In 1902, after the Colombian War of a Thousand Days and by Decree 930 of June 11, the government established the Office of Longitudes, to supply cartography and border delimitation needs to the country. With Resolution 118 it also ruled that the OAN –which at the time sent time signals by telegraph– be used as the source for longitudes and latitudes and measured using the Talcott method with the modifications indicated by Garavito. During thirty years, this agency was in charge of marking the borders with Panama, Brazil, and Peru.

The prior are some of the contributions for which Garavito is considered as one of the most important Colombian scientist, astronomer, and engineer. At his 100th death year anniversary, the country and the Universidad Nacional de Colombia are in preparations to pay homage for his valuable contributions to the scientific development of the country.

Outstanding student

Julio Garavito was born in Bogotá in a middle-class family with limited economic resources; therefore he was compelled to work from a young age to help with the family expenses. When he was 10-years old he was admitted to the Colegio Mayor de San Bartolomé, where he showed his interest in the mathematical and astronomical sciences. Later he graduated as a bachelor in Philosophy and Arts in 1884.

To be granted access to the UNal Engineering School, he had to wait until 1887 when it was reopened after the Colombian Civil War. Once in the Civil Engineering and Mathematics program, she showed unquestionable talent in mathematics and due to his dedication as a student, his work benefitted his fellow students, thanks to the clarifying and additional explanations he provided.

In those times, he could have access to scaling titles of surveyor –just after studying for the first two years–, to mathematics professor –after approving third-year courses–, to architect –complying with fourth-year requirements– and lastly Civil Engineer at the end of the fifth-year and after presenting his graduate thesis.

Garavito opted first for the title of Mathematics professor, presenting a paper entitled “Forma de la sección meridiana de un manómetro de aire comprimido para que la graduación sea uniforme” (Meridian section form of a compressed air pressure gauge for regular calibration), and published in 1892 in the Annals of Engineering, journal of the Colombian Society of Engineers. He was the first to graduate as a Mathematics professor.

Read more: Understanding the origin of the Universe (In Spanish.)

At the end of October of 1891, and to obtain the title of Civil Engineer, he presented a paper entitled, “Método general para el estudio de las armaduras triangulares, aplicado al estudio de la Armadura Warren” (General study method of triangular trusses, applied to the study of the Warren Trusses” especially for bridges, published by the same journal.

For Clara Elena Sánchez, Mathematician, Ph.D. in Epistemology of Science and connoisseur of the legacy of Garavito, he was part of an era where mathematics was very important for the education of engineers. In the nineteenth century, people spoke of “mathematical sciences” which included physics, astronomy, and topography, as opposed to modern-day science in which each of these is a different discipline.

After obtaining his engineering title he was appointed as a full professor, thanks to his immense capabilities. He passed from being an outstanding student to professor. He was a professor of infinitesimal calculus, rational mechanics and astronomy; later in 1896, he was appointed Interim Rector of the Faculty of Mathematics and Engineering.

The impact of this work

In 1893, at the age of 27, Garavito was appointed Director of the OAN, a year after graduating in mathematics and engineering at the Engineering School. There are some of his writings on algebra, geometry, spherical trigonometry, mathematical analyses, analytical mechanics, astronomy, meteorology, probability, actuary, political economics, psychology, and philosophy.

Read more: Why are black holes so important? (in Spanish.)

As a sample of his literary interests he published in 1918 an apologue in the journal “Cultura” called “Opium dream or witchcraft?”, back in 1909 he had started releasing economic related research papers for the journal “Nueva” and initiated a campaign to advance his ideas in this field.

For Colombian physicist and University of Paris researcher Regino Martínez-Chavanz, Julio Garavito was the first mathematician educated and graduated in Colombia, and the first physicist and astronomer worthy of this name in the country, besides being a prolific thinker. For this, he is recognized among Colombians as one of the most illustrious thinkers and scientists of the past century, along with Francisco José de Caldas.

He also says that as a professor he was a great pedagogue for his communicative and linguistic skills; very valued master for his clarity and rigor; and very didactical for his methods and extension of this knowledge. In his research, he was a tireless inquirer, a multi-faceted investigator, and an active thinker, with clearly written reflections and results.



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