Something called quantum field theory has been hugely successful in describing the fundamental forces and particles. But what exactly is it? This series of accessible articles traces the history of quantum field theory, from its inception at the beginning of the twentieth century to the tantalising questions that are still open today. It's a story of pain and triumph, hardship and success.
There's no doubt that information is power, but could it be converted into physical energy you could heat a room with or run a machine on? In the 19th century James Clerk Maxwell invented a hypothetical being — a "demon" — that seemed to be able to do just that. The problem was that the little devil blatantly contravened the laws of physics. What is Maxwell's demon and how was it resolved?
The natural logarithm is intimately related to the number e and that's how we learn about it at school. When it was first invented, though, people hadn't even heard of the number e and they weren't thinking about exponentiation either. How is that possible?
The Fibonacci sequence – 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, ... – is one of the most famous pieces of mathematics. We see how these numbers appear in multiplying rabbits and bees, in the turns of sea shells and sunflower seeds, and how it all stemmed from a simple example in one of the most important books in Western mathematics.
A commonly held belief about medieval Europe is that academic pursuits had fallen into a dark age. The majority of scholars were churchmen, and their enquiry often related to some principle of church practice. But is there a value to respecting the tenacity of historic mathematicians?