## Posts Tagged 'History'

### Discoveries by Amateurs and Distractions by Cranks

Do amateurs ever solve outstanding mathematical problems? Professional mathematicians are aware that almost every new idea they have about a mathematical problem has already occurred to others. Any really new idea must have some feature that explains why no one has thought of it before  [TM155 or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

Pierre de Fermat and Srinivasa Ramanujan, two brilliant “amateur” mathematicians.

### The “Napoleon of Crime” and The Laws of Thought

A fascinating parallel between a brilliant mathematician and an arch-villain of crime fiction is drawn in a forthcoming book – New Light on George Boole – by Des MacHale and Yvonne Cohen. Professor James Moriarty, master criminal and nemesis of Sherlock Holmes, was described by the detective as “the Napoleon of crime”. The book presents convincing evidence that Moriarty was inspired by Professor George Boole [TM151, or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

### Grandi’s Series: A Second Look

In an earlier post, we discussed Grandi’s series, originally studied by the Italian monk Dom Guido Grandi around 1703. It is the series

$\displaystyle G = 1 - 1 + 1 - 1 + 1 - 1 + \dots$

This is a divergent series: the sequence of partial sums is ${\{ 1, 0, 1, 0, 1, 0, \dots \}}$, which obviously does not converge, but alternates between ${0}$ and ${1}$.

### Grandi’s Series: Divergent but Summable

Is the Light On or Off?

Suppose a light is switched on for a half-minute, off for a quarter minute, on for one eighth of a minute and so on until precisely one minute has elapsed. Is the light on or off at the end of this (infinite) process? Representing the two states “on” and “off” by ${1}$ and ${0}$, the sequence of states over the first minute is ${\{ 1, 0, 1, 0, 1, 0, \dots \}}$. But how do we ascertain the final state from this sequence? This question is sometimes known as Thomson’s Lamp Puzzle.

### Optical Refinements at the Parthenon

The Parthenon is a masterpiece of symmetry and proportion. This temple to the Goddess Athena was built with pure white marble quarried at Pentelikon, about 20km from Athens. It was erected without mortar or cement, the stones being carved to great accuracy and locked together by iron clamps. The building and sculptures were completed in just 15 years, between 447 and 432 BC. [TM141 or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

### Mathematics at the Science Museum

The new Winton Gallery at London’s Science Museum in South Kensington holds a permanent display on the history of mathematics over the past 400 years. The exhibition shows how mathematics has underpinned astronomy, navigation and surveying in the past, and how it continues to pervade the modern world [see TM139, or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

Central Display at the Science Museum

### Fourier’s Wonderful Idea – II

Solving PDEs by a Roundabout Route

Joseph Fourier (1768-1830)

Joseph Fourier, born just 250 years ago, introduced a wonderful idea that revolutionized science and mathematics: any function or signal can be broken down into simple periodic sine-waves. Radio waves, micro-waves, infra-red radiation, visible light, ultraviolet light, X-rays and gamma rays are all forms of electromagnetic radiation, differing only in frequency  [TM136 or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].