Prof Marcus du Sautoy proves Math can be fun

Friday, 17 January 2014 - 4:45pm IST | Place: Jaipur | Agency: DNA


It’s difficult to make mathematics appeal to a large group of people, especially an audience that comprises of children, school students, and older men (including a man with a handlebar moustache and a bowler hats). At the Fort Samvad, during his session on the first day of the Zee Jaipur Literature festival, Prof Marcus du Sautoy endeavoured to prove the impossible – that mathematics can indeed be fun. 

There were a lot of students, two of whom were helping to translate his words into Hindi. Dressed in a pink sweatshirt and using the help of a projection screen and white chalkboard, Marcus led the audience in a test to find patterns in numbers. 

For eg: What comes next in the series 1, 3, 6, 10, 15, 21, 28…

The answer is 36. These are triangular numbers  

Marcus certainly had a sense of humour, which he used to the ultimate to leave the audience in splits – creating his own version of the lottery, clarifying he didn’t have a million dollars to give the winner and then making them wave their lottery papers in the air as exercise. He called mathematicians ‘pattern searchers’.  When explaining the Fibonacci series (he credited its origin to an Indian poet and musician who figured it out an century before Fibonacci while studying rhythms), he said, “If you count the petals of a flower, they will be a number from the series. If they are not, one of the petals would’ve fallen off…and this is how we mathematicians explain exceptions to our theories”.

Then he moved on to his favourite subject: prime numbers. "They are the atoms of the arithmetic world," he said. In explanation he said if you choose the number 105, it can be divided by 3, 5, and 7...all prime numbers. "Any number you choose can be broken down and divided till you finally reach a prime number." He spoke about how prime numbers are different because they go on and on, and how they are at the heart of internet cryptography.. The last known prime number, a record, was found in 2013 by an amateur mathematician using a software designed to calculate prime numbers. The number has 17 million digits and is described as 2 (to the power of 57, 885, 161) minus one. “If I have to say all the digits in this number, it would take me two-three months,” he chuckled. 

Some interesting tidbits he shared included a pattern in choosing number for the lottery in UK (choose consecutive numbers), the actual credit for the Fibbionaci series goes to a poet and musician from India named , and how mathematicians are essentially lazy hence find formulas for everything.

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