Archive for the 'Occasional' Category

Christopher Wren and the Cycloid

Sir Christopher Wren [ image ]

The remarkable polymath Christopher Wren died in March 1723, just 300 years ago. Sarah Hart, Professor of Geometry at Gresham College, recently presented a lecture, The Mathematical Life of Sir Christopher Wren; a video of her presentation in available online (see sources below). The illustration above is from the Gresham College website.

Continue reading ‘Christopher Wren and the Cycloid’

Bach and Euler chat in Frederick’s Court

Frederick the Great of Prussia, a devoted patron of the arts, had a particular interest in music, and admired the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. In 1747, Bach visited Potsdam, where his son Carl Philipp Emanuel was the Kapellmeister in Frederick’s court. When Frederick learned of this, he summoned ‘Old Bach’ to the palace and invited him to try out his collection of pianofortes. As they went from room to room, Bach improvised a new piece of music on each instrument  [TM243 or search for “thatsmaths” at].

Johann Sebastian Bach and Leonhard Euler.

Continue reading ‘Bach and Euler chat in Frederick’s Court’

Sets that are Elements of Themselves: Verboten

Russell’s Paradox.

Can a set be an element of itself? A simple example will provide an answer to this question. Continue reading ‘Sets that are Elements of Themselves: Verboten’

Benford’s Law Revisited

{Probability for the first decimal digit {D_1} of a number to take values from 1 to 9.

Several researchers have observed that, in a wide variety of collections of numerical data, the leading — or most significant — decimal digits are not uniformly distributed, but conform to a logarithmic distribution. Of the nine possible values, {D_1=1} occurs more than {30\%} of the time while {D_1=9} is found in less than {5\%} of cases (see Figure above). Specifically, the probability distribution is

\displaystyle \mathsf{P}(D_1 = d) = \log_{10} \left( 1 + \frac{1}{d} \right) \,, \quad \mbox{ for\ } d = 1, 2, \dots , 9 \,. \ \ \ \ \ (1)

A more complete form of the law gives the probabilities for the second and subsequent digits. A full discussion of Benford’s Law is given in Berger and Hill (2015).

Continue reading ‘Benford’s Law Revisited’

A Puzzle: Two-step Selection of a Digit

Here is a simple problem in probability.

(1) Pick a number k between 1 and 9. Assume all digits are equally likely.

(2) Pick a number m in the range from 1 to k.

What is the probability distribution for the number m?

A graph of the probability distribution is shown in the figure here.

Probability distribution for a decimal digit selected in a two-step process.

Can you derive a formula for this probability distribution?

Can you generalise it to the range from 1 to 10^n?

Can you relate this problem to Benford’s Law [described here]?

Solution, and more on Benford’s Law, next week.

Ford Circles & Farey Series

Lester R Ford, Sr. (1886–1967).

American mathematician Lester Randolph Ford Sr. (1886–1967) was President of the Mathematical Association of America from 1947 to 1948 and editor of the American Mathematical Monthly during World War II. He is remembered today for the system of circles named in his honour.

For any rational number {p/q} in reduced form ({p} and {q} coprime), a Ford circle is a circle with center at {(p/q,1/(2q^{2}))} and radius {1/(2q^{2})}. There is a Ford circle associated with every rational number. Every Ford circle is tangent to the horizontal axis and each two Ford circles are either tangent or disjoint from each other.

Continue reading ‘Ford Circles & Farey Series’

From Wave Equations to Modern Telecoms

Mathematics has an amazing capacity to help us to understand the physical world. Just consider the profound implications of Einstein’s simple equation {E = m c^2}. Another example is the wave equation derived by Scottish mathematical physicist James Clerk Maxwell. Our modern world would not exist without the knowledge encapsulated in Maxwell’s equations. Continue reading ‘From Wave Equations to Modern Telecoms’

Curvature and the Osculating Circle

Curvature is of critical importance in numerous contexts. An example is shown in the figure above, a map of the Silverstone Formula 1 racetrack. The sharp bends (high curvature) force drivers to reduct speed drastically.

Continue reading ‘Curvature and the Osculating Circle’

Adding a Point to Make a Space Compact

Stereographic projection between {\mathbb{R}} and {S^1}. There is no point on the real line corresponding to the “North Pole” in {S^1}. Can we add another point to {\mathbb{R}}?

The real line is an example of a locally compact Hausdorff space. In a Hausdorff space, two distinct points have disjoint neighbourhoods. As the old joke says, “any two points can be housed off from each other”. We will define local compactness below. The one-point compactification is a way of embedding a locally compact Hausdorff space in a compact space. In particular, it is a way to “make the real line compact”.

Continue reading ‘Adding a Point to Make a Space Compact’

Summing the Fibonacci Sequence

Left: Fibonacci, or Leonardo of Pisa. Right: Italian postage stamp issued on the 850th anniversary of his birth.

The Fibonacci sequence must be familiar to anyone reading this. We define it by means of a second-order recurrence relation,

\displaystyle F_{n+1} = F_{n-1} + F_n \,. \ \ \ \ \ (1)

and two initial values, {F_0 = 0} and {F_1 = 1}. This immediately yields the well-known sequence

\displaystyle \{F_n\} = \{ 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, \dots \} \,.

Continue reading ‘Summing the Fibonacci Sequence’

Spiric curves and phase portraits

Left: Conic sections. Right: Spiric sections [images Wikipedia Commons].

We are very familiar with the conic sections, the curves formed from the intersection of a plane with a cone. There is another family of curves, the Spiric sections, formed by the intersections of a torus by planes parallel to its axis. Like the conics, they come in various forms, depending upon the distance of the plane from the axis of the torus (see Figure above). We examine how spiric curves may be found in the phase-space of a dynamical system.

Continue reading ‘Spiric curves and phase portraits’

Closeness in the 2-Adic Metric

When is 144 closer to 8 than to 143?

The usual definition of the norm of a real number {x} is its modulus or absolute value {|x|}. We measure the “distance” between two real numbers by means of the absolute value of their difference. This gives the Euclidean metric {\rho(x,y) = |x-y|} and, using it, we can define the usual topology on the real numbers {\mathbb{R}}.

The standard arrangement of the real numbers on a line automatically ensures that numbers with small Euclidean difference between them are geometrically close to each other. It may come as a surprise that there are other ways to define norms and distances, which provide other topologies, leading us to a radically different concept of closeness, and to completely new number systems, the p-adic numbers.

Continue reading ‘Closeness in the 2-Adic Metric’

Curvature and Geodesics on a Torus

Geodesics on a torus [image from Jantzen, Robert T., 2021].

We take a look at the curvature on a torus, and the various forms that geodesics can have. These are compared to the geodesics on a “flat torus”.
Continue reading ‘Curvature and Geodesics on a Torus’

Low-pass Filtering and the Remarkable Integrals of Borwein and Borwein

In last week’s post we looked at aspects of puzzles of the form “What is the next number”. We are presented with a short list of numbers, for example {1, 3, 5, 7, 9} and asked for the next number in the sequence. Arguments were given indicating why any number might be regarded as the next number.

Borwein integrals evaluated by Mathematica. The first seven integrals are all equal to {\pi}. The eighth is a tiny bit less than this.

In this article we consider a sequence of seven ones: {1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1 ,1}. Most people would agree that the next number in the sequence is {1}. We will show how the number {1 - 1.47\times10^{-11} \approx 0.999\,999\,999\,985} could be the “correct” answer. Continue reading ‘Low-pass Filtering and the Remarkable Integrals of Borwein and Borwein’

What’s the Next Number?

We are all familiar with simple mathematical puzzles that give a short sequence and ask “What is the next number in the sequence”. Simple examples would be

\displaystyle \begin{array}{rcl} && 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, \dots \\ && 1, 4, 9, 16, 25, \dots \\ && 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, \dots \,, \end{array}

the sequence of odd numbers, the sequence of squares and the Fibonacci sequence.

Continue reading ‘What’s the Next Number?’

Mercury’s Mercurial Orbit

The tiny deviation of the orbit of Mercury from a pure ellipse might seem to be of no consequence. Yet the minute precession of this planet was one of the factors leading to a revolution in our world view. Attempts to explain the anomaly in the context of Newtonian mechanics were unsatisfactory. It was only with the emergence of general relativity that we were able to understand the observed phenomenon. Continue reading ‘Mercury’s Mercurial Orbit’

The Power of the 2-gon: Extrapolation to Evaluate Pi


Lewis Fry Richardson

Richardson’s extrapolation procedure yields a significant increase in the accuracy of numerical solutions of differential equations. We consider his elegant illustration of the technique, the evaluation of {\pi}, and show how the estimates improve dramatically with higher order extrapolation.

[This post is a condensed version of a paper in Mathematics Today (Lynch, 2003).]

Continue reading ‘The Power of the 2-gon: Extrapolation to Evaluate Pi’

Dropping Pebbles down a Mine-shaft

Trajectory of a body falling at the Equator during a period of 10 seconds.

If you drop a pebble down a mine-shaft, it will not fall vertically, but will be deflected slightly to the East by the Coriolis force, an effect of the Earth’s rotation. We can solve the equations to calculate the amount of deflection; for a ten-second drop, the pebble falls about 500 metres (air resistance is neglected) and is deflected eastward by about 25 cm. The figure on the left shows the trajectory in the vertical xz-plane (scales are not the same).

We derive the equations after making some simplifying assumptions. We assume the mine-shaft is at the Equator; we assume the meridional or north-south motion is zero; we neglect variations in the gravitational force; we neglect the sphericity of the Earth; we neglect air resistance. We can still get accurate estimates provided the elapsed time is short. However, carrying the analysis to the extreme, we obtain results that are completely unrealistic. The equations predict that the pebble will reach a minimum altitude and then rise up again to its initial height a great distance east of its initial position. Then this up-and-down motion will recur indefinitely.

Continue reading ‘Dropping Pebbles down a Mine-shaft’

From Sub-atomic to Cosmic Strings

The two great pillars of modern physics are quantum mechanics and general relativity. These theories describe small-scale and large-scale phenomena, respectively. While quantum mechanics predicts the shape of a hydrogen atom, general relativity explains the properties of the visible universe on the largest scales.

Continue reading ‘From Sub-atomic to Cosmic Strings’

Finding the Area of a Field

It is a tricky matter to find the area of a field that has irregular or meandering boundaries. The standard method is to divide the field into triangular parts. If the boundaries are linear, this is simple. If they twist and turn, then a large number of triangles may be required.

Heron of Alexandria. Triangle of sides a, b and c and altitude h.

Continue reading ‘Finding the Area of a Field’

CND Functions: Curves that are Continuous but Nowhere Differentiable

Approximation {W_{12}(x)} to the Weierstrass CND function.

A function {f(x)} that is differentiable at a point {x} is continuous there, and if differentiable on an interval {[a, b]}, is continuous on that interval. However, the converse is not necessarily true: the continuity of a function at a point or on an interval does not guarantee that it is differentiable at the point or on the interval.

Continue reading ‘CND Functions: Curves that are Continuous but Nowhere Differentiable’

Topological Calculus: away with those nasty epsilons and deltas

Continuous functions[figure from Olver (2022a).

A new approach to calculus has recently been developed by Peter Olver of the University of Minnesota. He calls it “Continuous Calculus” but indicates that the name “Topological Calculus” is also appropriate. He has provided an extensive set of notes, which are available online (Olver, 2022a)].

Continue reading ‘Topological Calculus: away with those nasty epsilons and deltas’

The 3-sphere: Extrinsic and Intrinsic Forms

Figure 1. An extract from Einstein’s 1917 paper on cosmology.

The circle in two dimensions and the sphere in three are just two members of an infinite family of hyper-surfaces. By analogy with the circle {\mathbb{S}^1} in the plane {\mathbb{R}^2} and the sphere {\mathbb{S}^2} in three-space {\mathbb{R}^3}, we can consider hyper-spheres in higher dimensional spaces. In particular, we will consider the 3-sphere which can be embedded in {\mathbb{R}^4} but can also be envisaged as a non-Euclidean manifold in {\mathbb{R}^3}.

Continue reading ‘The 3-sphere: Extrinsic and Intrinsic Forms’

Dynamic Equations for Weather and Climate

“I could have done it in a much more complicated way”,
said the Red Queen, immensely proud. — Lewis Carroll.

Books on dynamic meteorology and oceanography usually have a full chapter devoted to the basic dynamical equations. Since the Earth’s fluid envelop is approximately a thin spherical shell, spherical coordinates {(\lambda,\varphi, r)} are convenient. Here {\lambda} is the longitude and {\varphi} the latitude. In Figure 1 we show the momentum equations as presented in the monograph of Lorenz (1967):

Fig 1. The momentum equations, as in Lorenz (1967). The metric terms are boxed.

Continue reading ‘Dynamic Equations for Weather and Climate’

Curl Curl Curl

Many of us have struggled with the vector differential operators, grad, div and curl. There are several ways to represent vectors and several expressions for these operators, not always easy to remember. We take another look at some of their properties here.

Continue reading ‘Curl Curl Curl’

X+Y and the Special Triangle

Asa Butterfield as Nathan Ellis in X+Y.

How can mathematicians grapple with abstruse concepts that are, for the majority of people, beyond comprehension? What mental processes enable a small proportion of people to produce mathematical work of remarkable creativity? In particular, is there a connection between mathematical creativity and autism? We revisit a book and a film that address these questions.

Continue reading ‘X+Y and the Special Triangle’

Space-Filling Curves, Part II: Computing the Limit Function

The Approximating Functions

It is simple to define a mapping from the unit interval {I := [0,1]} into the unit square {Q:=[0,1]\times[0,1]}. Georg Cantor found a one-to-one map from {I} onto {Q}, showing that the one-dimensional interval and the two-dimensional square have the same cardinality. Cantor’s map was not continuous, but Giuseppe Peano found a continuous surjection from {I} onto {Q}, that is, a curve that fills the entire unit square. Shortly afterwards, David Hilbert found an even simpler space-filling curve, which we discussed in Part I of this post.

Continue reading ‘Space-Filling Curves, Part II: Computing the Limit Function’

Space-Filling Curves, Part I: “I see it, but I don’t believe it”

We are all familiar with the concept of dimension: a point is zero-dimensional, a line is one-dimensional, a plane is two-dimensional and the space around us is three-dimensional. A position on a line can be specified by a single number, such as the distance from a fixed origin. In the plane, a point can be located by giving its Cartesian coordinates {(x,y)}, or its polar coordinates {(\rho,\theta)}. In space, we may specify the location by giving three numbers {(x,y,z)}.

Continue reading ‘Space-Filling Curves, Part I: “I see it, but I don’t believe it”’

Poincare’s Square and Unbounded Gomoku

Poincare’s hyperbolic disk model.

Henri Poincar’e was masterful in presenting scientific concepts and ideas in an accessible way. To explain that the Universe might be bounded and yet infinite, he imagined that the temperature of space decreased from the centre to the periphery in such a way that everything contracted with the distance from the centre. As travellers moved outward from the centre, everything got smaller in such a way that it would take an infinite time to reach the boundary.

Continue reading ‘Poincare’s Square and Unbounded Gomoku’

Fields Medals presented at IMC 2022

Every four years, at the International Congress of Mathematicians, the Fields Medal is awarded to two, three, or four young mathematicians. To be eligible, the awardees must be under forty years of age. For the chosen few, who came from England, France, Korea and Ukraine, the award, often described as the Nobel Prize of Mathematics, is the crowning achievement of their careers [TM235 or search for “thatsmaths” at].

Clockwise from top left: Maryna Viazovska, James Maynard, June Huh and Hugo Duminil-Copin. Image Credits: Mattero Fieni, Ryan Cowan, Lance Murphy.

The congress, which ran from 6th to 14th July, was originally to take place in St Petersburg. When events made that impossible, the action shifted to Helsinki and the conference presentations were moved online. The International Mathematical Union generously allowed participants to register at no cost.

Continue reading ‘Fields Medals presented at IMC 2022’

Goldbach’s Conjecture and Goldbach’s Variation

Goldbach’s Conjecture is one of the great unresolved problems of number theory. It simply states that every even natural number greater than two is the sum of two prime numbers. It is easily confirmed for even numbers of small magnitude.

The conjecture first appeared in a letter dated 1742 from German mathematician Christian Goldbach to Leonhard Euler. The truth of the conjecture for all even numbers up to four million million million ({4\times 10^{18}}) has been demonstrated. There is essentially no doubt about its validity, but no proof has been found.

Continue reading ‘Goldbach’s Conjecture and Goldbach’s Variation’

The Size of Sets and the Length of Sets

Schematic diagram of {\omega^2}. Each line corresponds to an ordinal {\omega\cdot m + n} where {m} and {n} are natural numbers [image Wikimedia Commons].

Cardinals and Ordinals

The cardinal number of a set is an indicator of the size of the set. It depends only on the elements of the set. Sets with the same cardinal number — or cardinality — are said to be equinumerate or (with unfortunate terminology) to be the same size. For finite sets there are no problems. Two sets, each having the same number {n} of elements, both have cardinality {n}. But an infinite set has the definitive property that it can be put in one-to-one correspondence with a proper subset of itself.

Continue reading ‘The Size of Sets and the Length of Sets’

Can We Control the Weather?

Atmospheric motions are chaotic: a minute perturbation can lead to major changes in the subsequent evolution of the flow. How do we know this? There is just one atmosphere and, if we perturb it, we can never know how it might have evolved if left alone.

We know, from simple nonlinear models that exhibit chaos, that the flow is very sensitive to the starting conditions. We can run “identical twin” experiments, where the initial conditions for two runs are almost identical, and watch how the two solutions diverge. This — and an abundance of other evidence — leads us to the conclusion that the atmosphere behaves in a similar way.

Continue reading ‘Can We Control the Weather?’

The Arithmetic Triangle is Analytical too

Pascal’s triangle is one of the most famous of all mathematical diagrams. It is simple to construct and rich in mathematical patterns. There is always a chance of finding something never seen before, and the discovery of new patterns is very satisfying.

Not too long ago, Harlan Brothers found Euler’s number {e} in the triangle (Brothers, 2012(a),(b)). This is indeed surprising. The number {e} is ubiquitous in analysis but it is far from obvious why it should turn up in the arithmetic triangle.

Continue reading ‘The Arithmetic Triangle is Analytical too’


{Left: Swinging spring (three d.o.f.). Right: the Wilberforce spring (two d.o.f.).

The swinging spring, or elastic pendulum, exhibits some fascinating dynamics. The bob is free to swing like a spherical pendulum, but also to bounce up and down due to the stretching action of the spring. The behaviour of the swinging spring has been described in a previous post on this blog [Reference 1 below].

Continue reading ‘Swingin’-Springin’-Twistin’-Motion’

Parity of the Real Numbers: Part I

In some recent posts, here and here we discussed the extension of the concept of parity (Odd v. Even) from the integers to the rational numbers. We found that it is natural to consider three parity classes, determined by the parities of the numerator and denominator of a rational number {q = m / n} (in reduced form):

  • q Odd: {m} odd and {n} odd.
  • q Even: {m} even and {n} odd.
  • q None: {m} odd and {n} even.

or, in symbolic form,

\displaystyle \mbox{Odd} = \frac{odd}{odd} \,, \qquad \mbox{Even} = \frac{even}{odd} \,, \qquad \mbox{None} = \frac{odd}{even}

Here, {None} stands for “Neither Odd Nor Even”.

Continue reading ‘Parity of the Real Numbers: Part I’

Fairy Lights on the Farey Tree

Fairy Lights on the Farey Tree. Parity types are coloured as follows: Even: Blue; Odd: Green; None: Red.

The rational numbers {\mathbb{Q}} are dense in the real numbers {\mathbb{R}}. The cardinality of rational numbers in the interval {(0,1)} is {\boldsymbol{\aleph}_0}. We cannot list them in ascending order, because there is no least rational number greater than {0}.

Continue reading ‘Fairy Lights on the Farey Tree’

Parity and Partition of the Rational Numbers. Part II: Density of the Three Parity Classes

In last week’s post, we defined an extension of parity from the integers to the rational numbers. Three parity classes were found — even, odd and none. This week, we show that, with an appropriate ordering or enumeration of the rationals, the three classes are not only equinumerate (having the same cardinality) but of equal density in {\mathbb{Q}}. This article is a condensation of part of a paper [Lynch & Mackey, 2022] recently posted on arXiv.

Continue reading ‘Parity and Partition of the Rational Numbers. Part II: Density of the Three Parity Classes’

Parity and Partition of the Rational Numbers. Part I: The Three Parity Classes

We define an extension of parity from the integers to the rational numbers. Three parity classes are found — even, odd and none. Using the 2-adic valuation, we partition the rationals into subgroups with a rich algebraic structure.

Continue reading ‘Parity and Partition of the Rational Numbers. Part I: The Three Parity Classes’

A Finite but Unbounded Universe

Henri Poincaré described a beautiful geometric model with some intriguing properties. He envisioned a circular disk in the Euclidean plane, where distances were distorted to give it geometric properties quite different from those of Euclid’s Elements. He supposed that the temperature varied linearly from a fixed value at the centre of the disk to absolute zero on the boundary, and that lengths varied in proportion to the temperature.

Continue reading ‘A Finite but Unbounded Universe’

Following the Money around the Eurozone

Take a fistful of euro coins and examine the obverse sides; you may be surprised at the wide variety of designs. The eurozone is a monetary union of 19 member states of the European Union that have adopted the euro as their primary currency. In addition to these countries, Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City use euro coins so, from 2015, there have been 23 countries, each with its own national coin designs. For the €1 and €2 coins, there are 23 distinct national patterns; for the smaller denominations, there are many more. Thus, there is a wide variety of designs in circulation.

National designs of Finland, France, Germany, Ireland and Netherlands.

Continue reading ‘Following the Money around the Eurozone’

Mamikon’s Visual Calculus and Hamilton’s Hodograph

[This is a condensed version of an article [5] in Mathematics Today]

A remarkable theorem, discovered in 1959 by Armenian astronomer Mamikon Mnatsakanian, allows problems in integral calculus to be solved by simple geometric reasoning, without calculus or trigonometry. Mamikon’s Theorem states that `The area of a tangent sweep of a curve is equal to the area of its tangent cluster’.  We shall illustrate how this theorem can help to solve a range of integration problems.

Continue reading ‘Mamikon’s Visual Calculus and Hamilton’s Hodograph’

Infinitesimals: vanishingly small but not quite zero

Abraham Robinson (1918-1974)  and his book, first published in 1966.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about  Hyperreals and Nonstandard Analysis , promising to revisit the topic. Here comes round two.

Continue reading ‘Infinitesimals: vanishingly small but not quite zero’

The Chromatic Number of the Plane

To introduce the problem in the title, we begin with a quotation from the Foreword, written by Branko  Grünbaum, to the book by Alexander Soifer (2009): The Mathematical Coloring Book: Mathematics of Coloring and the Colorful Life of its Creators:

If each point of the plane is to be given a color, how many colors do we need if every two points at unit distance are to receive distinct colors?

About 70 years ago it was shown that the least number of colours needed for such a colouring is one of 4, 5, 6 and 7. But which of these is the correct number? Despite efforts by many very clever people, some of whom had solved problems that appeared to be much harder, no advance has been made to narrow the gap

{4\le\chi\le 7}.

Continue reading ‘The Chromatic Number of the Plane’

Hyperreals and Nonstandard Analysis

Following the invention of calculus, serious concerns persisted about the mathematical integrity of the method of infinitesimals. Leibniz made liberal use of infinitesimals, with great effect, but his reasoning was felt to lack rigour. The Irish bishop George Berkeley criticised the assumptions underlying calculus, and his objections were not properly addressed for several centuries. In the 1800s, Bolzano, Cauchy and Weierstrass developed the {\varepsilon}{\delta} definition of limits and continuity, which allowed derivatives and integrals to be defined without recourse to infinitesimal quantities. Continue reading ‘Hyperreals and Nonstandard Analysis’

Why Waffle when One Wordle Do?

A game of Wordle solved in 3 guesses (a birdie).

Hula hoops were all the rage in 1958. Yo-yos, popular before World War II, were relaunched in the 1960s. Rubik’s Cube, invented in 1974, quickly became a global craze. Sudoku, which had been around for years, was wildly popular when it started to appear in American and European newspapers in 2004.

Continue reading ‘Why Waffle when One Wordle Do?’

Where is the Sun?

Ecliptic plane [Wikimedia Commons].

The position of the Sun in the sky depends on where we are and on the time of day. Due to the Earth’s rotation, the Sun appears to cross the celestial sphere each day along a path called the ecliptic. The observer’s position on Earth is given by the geographic latitude and longitude. The path of the Sun depends on the latitude and the date, while the time when the Sun crosses the local meridian is determined by the longitude.

Continue reading ‘Where is the Sun?’

Gaussian Primes

We are all familiar with splitting natural numbers into prime components. This decomposition is unique, except for the order of the factors. We can apply the idea of prime components to many more general sets of numbers.

The Gaussian integers are all the complex numbers with integer real and imaginary parts, that is, all numbers in the set

\displaystyle \mathbb{Z}[i] \equiv \{ m + i n : m, n \in \mathbb{Z} \} \,.

The set {\mathbb{Z}[i]} forms a two-dimensional lattice in the complex plane. For any element {g \in \mathbb{Z}[i]} we consider the four numbers {\{g, -g, ig, -ig \}} as associates. The associates of {1} are known as units: {\{1, -1, i, -i \}}.

Continue reading ‘Gaussian Primes’

Letters to a German Princess: Euler’s Blockbuster Lives On

The great Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler produced profound and abundant mathematical works. Publication of his Opera Omnia began in 1911 and, with close to 100 volumes in print, it is nearing completion. Although he published several successful mathematical textbooks, the book that attracted the widest readership was not a mathematical work, but a collection of letters  [TM227 or search for “thatsmaths” at].

For several years, starting in 1760, Euler wrote a series of letters to Friederike Charlotte, Princess of Brandenburg-Schwedt, a niece of Frederick the Great of Prussia. The collection of 234 letters was first published in French, the language of the nobility, as Lettres à une Princesse d’Allemagne. This remarkably successful popularisation of science appeared in many editions, in several languages, and was widely read. Subtitled “On various subjects in physics and philosophy”, the first two of three volumes were published in 1768 by the Imperial Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg, with the support of the empress, Catherine II.

Continue reading ‘Letters to a German Princess: Euler’s Blockbuster Lives On’

Euler’s Journey to Saint Petersburg

It all began with an invitation to Leonhard Euler to accept a chair of mathematics at the new Imperial Academy of Science in the city founded by Peter the Great. Euler’s journey from Basel to Saint Petersburg was a highly influential factor for the development of the mathematical sciences. The journey is described in detail in a full-length biography of Euler by Ronald Calinger (2016). The account below is heavily dependent on Calinger’s book.

Drawing based on a map of Europe from about 1740 (from Calinger, 2016, pg. 39). Euler’s route from Basel to Saint Petersburg is marked by the heavy dashed line.

Continue reading ‘Euler’s Journey to Saint Petersburg’

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