Archive for January, 2021

Euler’s Product: the Golden Key

The Golden Key

The Basel problem was solved by Leonhard Euler in 1734 [see previous post]. His line of reasoning was ingenious, with some daring leaps of logic. The Basel series is a particular case of the much more general zeta function, which is at the core of the Riemann hypothesis, the most important unsolved problem in mathematics.

Euler treated the Taylor series for {\sin x} as a polynomial of infinite degree. He showed that it could also be expressed as an infinite product, arriving at the result

\displaystyle \frac{\sin x}{x} = \sum_{n=0}^{\infty} (-1)^{n} \frac{x^{2n}}{(2n+1)!} = \prod_{n=1}^{\infty} \left( 1 - \frac{x^{2} }{(n\pi)^2} \right) \nonumber \ \ \ \ \ (1)

This enabled him to deduce the remarkable result

\displaystyle \sum_{n=1}^\infty \frac{1}{n^2} = \left( \frac{1}{1^2} + \frac{1}{2^2} + \frac{1}{3^2} + \frac{1}{4^2} + \cdots \right) = \frac{\pi^2}{6}

which he described as an unexpected and elegant formula.

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Euler: a mathematician without equal and an overall nice guy

Mathematicians are an odd bunch. Isaac Newton was decidedly unpleasant, secretive and resentful while Carl Friedrich Gauss, according to several biographies, was cold and austere, more likely to criticize than to praise. It is frequently claimed that a disproportionate number of mathematicians exhibit signs of autism and have significant difficulties with social interaction and everyday communication [TM203 or search for “thatsmaths” at].

It is true that some of the greatest fit this stereotype, but the incomparable Leonhard Euler is a refreshing counter-example. He was described by his contemporaries as a generous man, kind and loving to his 13 children and maintaining his good-natured disposition even after he became completely blind. He is comforting proof that a neurotic personality is not essential for mathematical prowess.

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The Basel Problem: Euler’s Bravura Performance

The Basel problem was first posed by Pietro Mengoli, a mathematics professor at the University of Bologna, in 1650, the same year in which he showed that the alternating harmonic series sums to {\ln 2}. The Basel problem asks for the sum of the reciprocals of the squares of the natural numbers,

\displaystyle \sum_{n=1}^\infty \frac{1}{n^2} = \frac{1}{1^2} + \frac{1}{2^2} + \frac{1}{3^2} + \frac{1}{4^2} + \cdots = \ ?

It is not immediately clear that this series converges, but this can be proved without much difficulty, as was first shown by Jakob Bernoulli in 1689. The sum is approximately 1.645 which has no obvious interpretation.

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That’s Maths II: A Ton of Wonders

by Peter Lynch has just appeared.
Full details and links to suppliers at

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We are living at the bottom of an ocean

Anyone who lives by the sea is familiar with the regular ebb and flow of the tides. But we all live at the bottom of an ocean of air. The atmosphere, like the ocean, is a fluid envelop surrounding the Earth, and is subject to the influence of the Sun and Moon. While sea tides have been known for more than two thousand years, the discovery of tides in the atmosphere had to await the invention of the barometer  [TM202 or search for “thatsmaths” at].

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