Jan-Willem van Holten honors 18th century physicist Ms. Marquise du Chastellet with translation

20 July 2023

Former Nikhef staff member Jan-Willem van Holten has published a Dutch translation of the Marquise du Chastellet’s 1742 standard work Institutions Physiques, on the natural philosophy and physics of her time.

The book, with an introduction on the life and work of the influential and learned 18th century Marquise by Margriet van der Heijden, is published by Leiden University Press. Du Chastellet bases her book on work by Descartes, Kepler, Galileo, Huygens, Leibnits and Newton.

In nearly 600 numbered paragraphs, she comments on and clarifies the natural sciences and philosophy of her time. Van der Heijden calls her role exceptional for a woman at the time.

Du Chastellet was the first to translate and comment on Newton’s The Principia from Latin into French. Thus, the work on motion and gravity found its way into wider circles in Europe. Her translation was also translated back into German and Italian immediately after publication.

Still interesting is Du Chastellet’s emphasis on a concept she calls living force, in modern terms kinetic energy. This makes her one of the founders of modern dynamics.

Jan-Willem van Holten is professor emeritus of theoretical physics and was long associated with Nikhef for the Free University and later the University of Leiden. With the book, he hopes to make the striking Marquise and her work more widely known in the Netherlands.