"I am delighted for my work to have been recognised with this very special honour," says Charlie. "In recent years there have been unprecedented changes in mathematics education, particularly in curriculum development and the professional development of teachers, and it has been a privilege to have been in a position to influence them."
MEI's Chairman Gerald Goodall says:
"MEI plays a leading role in expanding opportunities for access to high quality mathematics education and we are very fortunate to benefit from Charlie’s leadership. MEI's trustees and staff are delighted to see Charlie's hard work and dedication recognised in this way."
It must almost be holidays for everyone and so it's nearly time to celebrate! For many people that involves having a nice cold glass of something and we have found the very best way to open a bottle – a beautiful Klein Bottle Opener from Bathsheba! We love Klein bottles, just one of many beautiful mathematical surfaces. You can read all about them while you enjoy your glass of bubbly!
"A mathematician, like a painter or poet, is a maker of patterns. If his patterns are more permanent than theirs, it is because they are made with ideas."
Shane Shambhu as Ramanujan and David Annan as Hardy in the play A disappearing number. Photo: Tristram Kenton.
This beautiful sentence is from G.H. Hardy's 1940 essay A mathematician's apology. The work was Hardy's attempt to justify the pursuit of pure maths to non-mathematicians and to explain its motivation. It focuses on the beauty of maths and, unlike many other attempts to make maths appear attractive, takes pride in the un-applicability of pure maths — partly because something that has no applications can't do any harm. It's an understandable sentiment for a pacifist like Hardy at the time of WWII. And although Hardy was proved very wrong about the "purity" of his own field, number theory, which is today used in cryptography, it's still a fascinating and thought-provoking read.
In the Apology Hardy also mentions the mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan, who played a defining part in Hardy's mathematical life:
"I still say to myself when I am depressed, and find myself forced to listen to pompous and tiresome people, 'Well, I have done one the thing you could never have done, and that is to have collaborated with both Littlewood and Ramanujan on something like equal terms.'"
Hardy's collaboration with the self-taught Indian genius was remarkable. It inspired the 2008 play, A disappearing number, which we explored in thisPlus article. You can also listen to our podcast with actor and mathematician Victoria Gould reading a section from the foreword to Hardy's Apology.
December 22nd would have been the 127th birthday of the legendary Indian mathematician Srinivasa
Ramanujan. His story really is remarkable. Born in 1887 in a small village around 400km
from Madras (now Chennai), Ramanujan developed a passion for maths
very early on. By age 15 he routinely solved maths problems
that went way beyond what his classmates were dealing with. He worked out his own method for solving quartic equations, for example, and even had a go at quintic ones (and failed of course, since the general quintic is unsolvable). But since he neglected all other
subjects apart from maths, Ramanujan never got into university, and was forced to continue
studying maths alone and in poverty. Only after a plea to an eminent mathematician, who described Ramanujan as "A short uncouth figure, stout, unshaven, not over clean," did Ramanujan eventually get a job as a clerk at the Madras Port Trust.
It was during his time at the Port Trust that Ramanujan decided to write a letter that was to change his
life. It was addressed to the famous Cambridge number theorist G. H. Hardy who, accustomed to this early-twentieth-century form of spam, was irritated at first: a letter from an unknown Indian containing crazy-looking theorems and no proofs at all. But as he went about his day, Hardy couldn't quite forget about the script:
At the back of his mind [...] the Indian manuscript nagged away. Wild theorems. Theorems such as he had never seen before, nor imagined. A fraud of genius? A question was forming itself in his mind. As it was Hardy's mind,
the question was forming itself with epigrammatic clarity: is a fraud of genius more probable than an unknown mathematician of genius? Clearly the answer was no. Back in his rooms in Trinity, he had another look at the script. He sent word to Littlewood that they must have a discussion after hall...
Apparently it did not take them long. Before midnight they knew, and knew for certain. The writer of these manuscripts was a man of genius.
From the foreword by C. P. Snow to Hardy's A Mathematician's Apology
Hardy invited Ramanujan to
Cambridge, and on March 17, 1914 Ramanujan set sail for England to start one of the most fascinating
collaborations in the history of maths. Right from the start the pair
produced important results and Ramanujan made up for the gaps in his
formal maths education by taking a degree in Cambridge. Perhaps the most famous story to emerge from this period has Hardy visiting Ramanujan as he lay ill in bed. Hardy complained that the number of the taxi he had arrived in, 1729, was a boring number, and that he worried this was a bad omen. "No," Ramanujan replied, apparently without hesitation. "It is a very interesting number; it is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two cubes in two different ways":
Unfortunately, Ramanujan's sickness wasn't a one-off. His health had always been feeble, and the cold weather and unaccustomed English food didn't help. Ramanujan decided to return to India in
1919 and died the following year, aged only 33. He is still celebrated as one of India's greatest mathematicians.
You can find out more about Ramanujan's mathematics in these Plus articles:
Still looking for a special present for a special person? Then what about a Gömböc: this strange egg-like shape wriggles around with an apparent will of its own and, even better, barely exists at all.
A Gömböc is a 3D convex shape with one stable and one unstable equilibrium point. The reason it wriggles around when you put it down is that it's "trying to" rest on its stable equilibrium point, and since there's only one of them it takes a little dance to find it. for other objects this doesn't happen because they have more stable equilibrium points, so all they need to do to find one when you put them down in an unstable position is fall over. If you change a Gömböc even only a tiny bit, you'll create extra equilibrium points or stop it from being convex, so you'll stop it from being a Gömböc. This is why Gömböcs teeter on the brink of existence — the smallest change and they're gone.
For a very long time people believed that Gömböcs didn't exist, but recently the Hungarian mathematicians Gábor Domokos and Péter Várkonyi proved that they did (find out more here). You can purchase your very own Gömböc on the Gömböc website (though be warned, it's a little pricey!).