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chalkdust

Covers of Manifold magazine, which ran between 1968 and 1980. The popular game Mornington Crescent from I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue was based on the game Finchley Central, which first appeared in Manifold.

Stewart found his home in the Mathematics Institute at Warwick, and barring a few sabbaticals has always been there, gradually becoming one of Britain’s best-loved popular maths authors. When asked about his favourite self-authored book, Stewart pauses to think for a moment, raising his head slightly. But not for very long: he leans in and proclaims “17 Equations!”. With a big smile on his face and not much prompting he tells us that the idea for 17 Equations that Changed the World came about during a book fair in Frankfurt, when a Dutch publishing house asked Stewart’s English publisher if he would be interested in the project. Stewart accepted, and originally designed a book about 30 equations, but then narrowed this down to 20 to make the book more manageable. He finally seled on 17 as he believed that this was a much more interesting number! By focusing on the historical impact and stories behind the equations, Stewart created a fascinating book that was accessible to everybody. In the chapter on relativity, Stewart was proud of debunking one prevalent myth, that the equation E = mc 2 was directly responsible for the development of the atomic bomb. In fact this is not the case at all, as nuclear explosions only use a small percentage of the materials’ mass energy, and it was already known experimentally that nuclear reactions could release a lot of energy. But the myth prevailed as this was one of the ways the American government managed to convince the public that the atomic bomb might possibly work. Another of his favourites is Why Beauty is Truth: a This was one way the American History of Symmetry, which looks at the historical degovernment managed to convelopment of group theory explained through the convince the public that the atomic cept of symmetry. The book starts with the Babylobomb could possibly work. nians, where the calculations of ancient scribes reveal the earliest known solutions to quadratic equations. It moves on to the Renaissance period and its aempts to solve quartic equations, follows this up with Galois’ work on quintics (anyone who has studied Galois theory will no doubt be aware of Stewart’s excellent textbook on the subject), before ending with modern developments in group theory. The book was very well received and shortlisted for the Royal Society Winton Science Prize for Science Books. Turning to his competitors in the popular maths market, Stewart likes Marcus du Sautoy’s Music of the Primes, Douglas Hofstadter’s seminal Gödel, Escher, Bach and Zeno’s Paradox by Joseph Mazur. He’s also a fan of Euclid in the Rainforest, again by Joseph Mazur, where each chapter is presented as a personal story taking its readers to the heart of mathematics: logic and proof. 5

spring 2016

Chalkdust, Issue 03  

Popular mathematics magazine from UCL

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