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Monday, 8 October 2012


The Story of Maths is a four-part British television series outlining aspects of the history of mathematics. It was a co-production between the Open University and the BBC and aired in October 2008 on BBC Four. The material was written and presented by University of Oxford professor Marcus du Sautoy.[1] The consultants were the Open University academics Robin Wilson, professor Jeremy Gray and June Barrow-Green. Kim Duke is credited as series producer.[2]
The series comprised four programmes respectively titled: The Language of the Universe; The Genius of the East; The Frontiers of Space; and To Infinity and Beyond. Du Sautoy documents the development of mathematics covering subjects such as the invention of zero and the unproven Riemann hypothesis, a 150 year old problem for whose solution the Clay Mathematics Institute has offered a $1,000,000 prize. He escorts viewers through the subject's history and geography. He examines the development of key mathematical ideas and shows how mathematical ideas underpin the world's science, technology, and culture.
He starts his journey in ancient Egypt and finishes it by looking at current mathematics. Between he travels through Babylon, Greece, India, China, and the medieval Middle East. He also looks at mathematics in Europe and then in America and takes the viewers inside the lives of many of the greatest mathematicians.
In this opening programme Marcus du Sautoy looks at how important and fundamental mathematics is to our lives before looking at the mathematics of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Greece.
Du Sautoy commences in Egypt where recording the patterns of the seasons and in particular the flooding of the Nile was essential to their economy. There was a need to solve practical problems such as land area for taxation purposes.[3] Du Sautoy discovers the use of a decimal system based on the fingers on the hands, the unusual method for multiplication and division. He examines the Rhind Papyrus, the Moscow Papyrus and explores their understanding of binary numbers, fractions and solid shapes.
He then travels to Babylon and discovered that the way we tell the time today is based on the Babylonian 60 base number system. So because of the Babylonians we have 60 seconds in a minute, and 60 minutes in an hour. He then shows how the Babylonians used quadratic equations to measure their land. He deals briefly with Plimpton 322.
In Greece, the home of ancient Greek mathematics, he looks at the contributions of some of its greatest and well known mathematicians including Pythagoras, Plato, Euclid, and Archimedes, who are some of the people who are credited with beginning the transformation of mathematics from a tool for counting into the analytical subject we know today. A controversial figure, Pythagoras’ teachings were considered suspect and his followers seen as social outcasts and a little be strange and not in the norm. There is a legend going around that one of his followers, Hippasus, was drowned when he announced his discovery of irrational numbers. As well as his work on the properties of right angled triangles, Pythagoras developed another important theory after observing musical instruments. He discovered that the intervals between harmonious musical notes are always in whole number intervals.[4] It deals briefly with Hypatia of Alexandria.


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