Born in Oizé, in the French
region of Maine, he studied at the Jesuit college of Le Fleche (where
Descartes also went). After a couple of years of theology at the Sorbonne,
he entered, in 1611, the religious order of the Minims, and, from
1619, settled in the Parisian convent of the Annunciation, where he
stayed, except for a few brief trips, until his death in 1648.
Mersenne's scientific contributions span
a wide range of interests, ranging from biblical exegesis to philosophy,
from mechanics to musical theory and acoustics, from geometry to optics,
from pneumatics to linguistics. At another level, beyond the specific
results of these intense research activities, Mersenne performed a
particularly important role in organising European culture of the
time. Among those who came to his convent cell or who entered into
close correspondence with him, we find, amongst others, Peiresc, Gassendi,
Descartes, Roberval, Beeckman, van Helmont, Fermat, Hobbes, Pascal
and Baliani. The French Minim favoured contact between savants,
putting them in touch with each other, and promoting debate and scientific
cooperation. In the informal role of secretary of the republic of
letters, he nursed the plan to establish a European scientific academy.
Mersenne participated actively in the debates
on the problem of the vacuum, above all during and after his trip
to Italy in 1644. He then had the opportunity to assist some barometrical
experiments, and discuss with the main players in the Italian scientific
movement. He then disseminated their findings in France.