Coriolis was born in Paris. In 1816 he became a tutor at the École Polytechnique. Here he did experiments on friction and hydraulics.

In 1829 Coriolis published a textbook, Calcul de l'Effet des Machines ("Calculation of the Effect of Machines"), which presented mechanics in a way that could readily be applied by industry. In this period the correct expression for kinetic energy, ½mv2, and its relation to mechanical work became established.

During the following years Coriolis worked to extend the notion of kinetic energy and work to rotating systems.[2] The first of his papers, Sur le principe des forces vives dans les mouvements relatifs des machines (On the principle of kinetic energy in the relative motion in machines),[3]. was read to the Académie des Sciences (Coriolis 1832). Three years later came the paper that would make his name famous, Sur les équations du mouvement relatif des systèmes de corps (On the equations of relative motion of a system of bodies).[4]. Coriolis's papers do not deal with the atmosphere or even the rotation of the earth, but with the transfer of energy in rotating systems like waterwheels. A detailed discussion may be found in Dugas.[5]

In 1835 he published a mathematical work on collisions of spheres: Théorie Mathématique des Effets du Jeu de Billard, considered a classic on the subject.[6][7]

Coriolis's name began to appear in the meteorological literature at the end of the 19th century, although the term "Coriolis force" was not used until the beginning of the 20th century. Today, the name Coriolis has become strongly associated with meteorology, but all major discoveries about the general circulation and the relation between the pressure and wind fields were made without knowledge about Gaspard Gustave Coriolis.

Coriolis became professor of mechanics at the École Centrale des Arts et Manufactures in 1829. Upon the death of Navier in 1836, Coriolis succeeded him in in the chair of applied mechanics at the École des Ponts and Chaussées and to Navier's place in the Académie des Sciences.[8] In 1838 he succeeded Dulong as Directeur des études (director of studies) in the École Polytechnique. He died in 1843 at the age of 51 in Paris.