Georges Lemaître

Born in Charleroi on July 17, 1894, Georges Lemaître was an astronomer, cosmologist and professor at the Université catholique de Louvain. He died in Louvain on June 20, 1966,

After obtaining a thesis in 1920 on "The approximation of the functions of several real variables" under the direction of Charles de la Vallée Poussin, he studied in 1923 at the University of Cambridge (England) with the astronomer and relativist Arthur Stanley Eddington who introduced him to modern stellar astronomy and numerical methods. He spent the following year at the Harvard College Observatory in Cambridge (USA) working with Harlow Shapley, who had recently distinguished himself for his work on nebulae and at the M.I.T., where he enrolled in the doctorate in science.

Back in Belgium, he was appointed lecturer at the Université catholique de Louvain in 1925. Then, he began to work on the subject that will make him internationally known and that will appear in 1927 in the Annals of the Société Scientifique de Bruxelles under the title "A homogeneous universe of constant mass and increasing radius accounting for the radial velocity of extragalactic nebulae". In this paper he presents a brand new concept: the physical expansion of the Universe. That same year, 1927, he returned to the M.I.T. to defend his doctoral thesis on "The gravitational field in a fluid sphere of uniform invariant density according to the theory of relativity". He received the diploma of Doctor of Philosophy and was subsequently appointed professor at the Catholic University of Louvain.

In 1931, his former teacher Eddington published an English translation of the 1927 article and a long commentary. Lemaître is then invited to London to attend a meeting of the British Association on the relationship between the physical universe and the life of the spirit. It is here that he proposes a singular beginning of the expanding universe and launches the idea of ​​the "Primitive Atom" which he specifies in a paper published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. This proposal provoked a very strong reaction from the scientific community of the time. Eddington called this hypothesis boring.

On March 17, 1934, Father Lemaître received the Prix Francqui, the highest Belgian scientific distinction, a honor bestowed on him by King Leopold III. His godfathers were Albert Einstein and the academicians Charles de la Vallée Poussin and A. de Hemptinne. The members of the international jury were Eddington, Langevin, Donder and Dehalu. Another distinction which the Belgian Government reserves for exceptional scientists is granted in 1950 by the award of the ten-year prize for applied sciences for the period 1933-1942.

At the end of his life, he devotes himself more and more to numerical computation. He is in fact a calculator, algebraist and remarkable arithmetician. From 1930, he uses the most powerful calculating machines of the time like the Mercedes. In 1958, he introduced to the University a Burroughs E 101, the first electronic calculator of the University. Lemaître is very interested in the development of computers and, more importantly, in language and programming problems. With age, this interest grows larger and larger so that it absorbs it almost completely.

Lemaître gave a story to the Universe and broke the immutable image we had until then.



  • L'Académie Pontificale des Sciences en mémoire de son second président Georges Lemaître. A l'occasion du cinquième anniversaire de sa mort, 1972, Pontificiae Academia Scientiarum Varia, 292p.
  •  The Big-Bang and Georges Lemaître, 1984. (A. Berger, éd.), D. Reidel Publ. Company, Dordrecht, Holland, 420 p.
  •  Cosmology of Lemaître, 1985 (O. Godart et M. Heller, eds), Pachart ed., Tucson, 204 p.
  • Georges Lemaître, le Père du Big Bang, 1994 (V. De Rath, éd.), Editions Labor, Bruxelles, ISBN 2-8040-1025-2, 156 p.
  • Georges Lemaître et l'Académie Royale de Belgique. Œuvres choisies et notice bibliographique. 1995 (Académie Royale de Belgique), 219 p.
  • Mgr. G. Lemaître savant et croyant. Actes du colloque commémoratif du centième anniversaire de sa naissance, Louvain-la-Neuve, le 4 novembre 1994, 1996 (J.-Fr. Stoffel), Reminescence 3, Centre Interfacultaire d'étude en histoire des sciences, univ. catholique de Louvain, 371 p.
  • Essais de cosmologie précédés de l'invention du Big Bang, 1997 (J.-P. Luminet et A. Grib, éds.), Editions du Seuil, 337 p.
  • Un Atome d'Univers. La vie et l'œuvre de Georges Lemaître. Le père du Big Bang. 2000 (Dominique Lambert), Ed. Racine, 372 pp.
  • L'invention du Big Bang, (Jean-Pierre Luminet), Seuil 2004, ISBN 2-02-061148-1, 267 p.
  • The Day Without Yesterday - Lemaître, Einstein, and the Birth of Modern Cosmology, (Farrell, John) - Thunder's Mouth Press 2005 - New York, ISBN 1-56025-660-5, 262 p.
  • The Day Without Yesterday - Lemaître, Einstein, and the Birth of Modern Cosmology, (Farrell, John) - Japanese translation by Nikkei Business Publications Inc 2006, ISBN 4-8222-8288-0, 285 pp.
  • L'itinéraire spirituel de Georges Lemaître. Suivi de " Univers et atome " (inédit de G. Lemaître). 2007 (Dominique Lambert), n°16, Editions Lessius, 222p.
  • Charles Darwin et Georges Lemaître, une improbable, mais passionnante rencontre. 2008 (Dominique Lambert et Jacques Reisse), Classe des Sciences, Académie royale de Belgique, ISBN 978-2-8031-0252-5, 288 p.