Mathematician:Willebrord van Royen Snell

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Dutch applied mathematician and astronomer who founded the modern science of geodesy, by pioneering the technique of triangulation.

Developed an improved method for determining the value of $\pi$ (pi) using polygons.

Discovered the Sine Law.

Known today for rediscovering the Snell-Descartes Law in 1621, governing the refraction of light. He did not publish himself. It first appeared in 1703 when it was published in Christiaan Huygens' Dioptrica.

Note: Several source works (notably the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica) give his birth year as 1591. It is apparent that this is an error.




  • Born: 13 June 1580, Leiden, South Holland, Union of Utrecht (what is now known in English as the Netherlands).
  • From 1600: Travelled to various European countries, mostly discussing astronomy.
  • 1602: Went to Paris to continue studies
  • 1604: Visited Switzerland with his father
  • 1607: Received degree from Leiden
  • 1613: Succeeded his father as professor of mathematics in the university of Leiden
  • 1615: Planned and executed a new method of finding the dimensions of the earth, by triangulation
  • Died: 30 Oct 1626, Leiden


Results named for Willebrord van Royen Snell can be found here.


  • 1617: Eratosthenes Batavus (the Dutch Eratosthenes)
  • 1618: Coeli et siderum in eo errantium observationes Hassiacae by William IV of Hesse (edited)
  • 1621: Cyclometria sive de circuli dimensione
  • 1624: Tiphys Batavus
  • 1627: Doctrina triangulorum (posthumous)

Also known as

Willebrord van Royen Snell can also be rendered Willebrord Snel van Royen.

He is also known by his Latinized name Willebrord Snellius.