Category: History mathematics


Euclid's Elements has been the best-selling mathematics book of all time, being used continuously for over 2000 years. Who was Euclid, and why did his writings have such influence? What does the Elements contain, and why did it create so much controversy over the years?


Euler, ‘the Mozart of mathematics’, was probably the most prolific mathematician of all time, having contributed to many areas, both theoretical and practical, both serious and recreational – yet he remains largely unknown except to mathematicians. Who was he, what did he do, and why do mathematicians regard him so highly?


How many colours are needed to colour a map so that neighbouring countries are coloured differently? At first it seems that for very complicated maps, many colours are needed, but surprisingly four colours suffice for all maps - a fact that took over a hundred years to prove. In this lecture we commemorate the 150th anniversary of this famous problem by outlining its history and solution. The eventual proof, making extensive use of a computer, raises some interesting philosophical questions.


In 1900 the German mathematician David Hilbert presented the mathematical community with 23 unsolved problems. What were they, and how successful were attempts to solve them? 100 years later the mathematical world was presented with seven 'millennium problems'. What are they, and where is maths heading in the future?


Robin Wilson's new book (published by Penguin) is a celebration of one of the nineteenth century's most gifted minds, whose writings have inspired and entertained generations of readers. Yet only now are the less well-known achievements of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (better known as Lewis Carroll) finally brought to light.


Most people know the story of Newton and the apple, but why was it so important? What sort of person was Newton? What was his major work Principia Mathematica about, what difficulties did it raise, and how were they resolved? Was Newton really the first to discover the calculus, and why did it matter?

The Story of pi

The 'circle number' pi has fascinated people for thousands of years. Who first called it pi? who had it engraved on their tombstone? Who tried to pass a law declaring it to be 3.2? How can we find pi by tossing needles? and Can one square the circle?
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