history of mathematics

The Mayan civilisation brought forth many great things — including this clever way of making a right angle.

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?

How a cute 18th century puzzle laid the foundations for one of the most modern areas of maths: network theory.

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?

Georgian school maths: bushels of corn, kilderkins of beer and feeding soldiers. All without algebra!

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?

Hugh Everett III is the father of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. He published the idea in his PhD thesis but died before it gained the recognition it deserves. This article gives an insight into Everett's difficult life.

Compass & Rule: Architecture as Mathematical Practice in England, 1500-1750, is a lovely online version of the physical exhibition help at the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford, in 2009. Compass and Rule focuses on design and drawing, exploring the role of geometry in the dramatic transformation of English architecture between the 16th and 18th centuries.

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