You're reading: Posts Tagged: maths in the media

Cheng vs Colbert

Eugenia Cheng was on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert recently. Here it is:

Given any Delta, there exists Epsilon


At the end of an overnight flight from San Francisco to New York is hardly the ideal time to play “I Spy Mathematics” on a packed airplane. We were all grumpy and groggy from four scant hours of sleep. It seemed that nobody had watched any films en route and, like most of the other passengers, I didn’t have headphones or earplugs to hand.

Clearly there was no point in scanning the entertainment offerings with just 15 minutes to landing. But then I remembered spotting an ad on screen for The Great Courses as I’d settled into my seat in San Francisco. Was it possible that I’d blown a chance to watch Art Benjamin, David Bressoud, Judith Grabiner, David Kung, James Sellers or Mike Starbird in action? I decided to try to find out.

π and The Simpsons

Simpsons-Packshot white mini

In “The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets”, I documented all the mathematical references hidden in the world’s favourite TV show. Look carefully at various episodes, you will spot everything from Fermat’s last theorem to the Riemann hypothesis, from the P v NP conjecture to Zorn’s lemma.

All these references are embedded in the show, because many of the writers have mathematical backgrounds. To temper their nerdy enthusiasm, the general rule was that they could include as much mathematics as they fancied, as long as it was well hidden or only visible for a fraction of a second (a so-called freeze-frame gag).

However, if the mathematical reference is not particularly obscure, then it can be included at the heart of the action, and can even be included in the actual dialogue. π, of course, falls into this category, because everyone learns about it in school.

There are at least ten π references in “The Simpsons”, and here are my top three favourites, in reverse order:

Cédric Villani’s Birth of a Theorem is Radio 4 Book of the Week

Birth of a Theorem, the autobiographical book by French mathematician and (spoiler) Fields Medallist Cédric Villani, is Book of the Week on BBC Radio 4 this week, read by non-French non-mathematician Julian Rhind-Tutt. Villani also appeared on discussion show Start the Week on Monday, talking about ‘the mathematical mind’ along with mathematician Vicky Neale; Morgan Matthews, director of kid-does-maths film X+Y; and novelist Zia Haider Rahman.

Review: “The Theory of Everything”

A few days ago, friend of The Aperiodical James Grime contacted me asking if I would be able to review The Theory of Everything. Obviously I was flattered. In a past life I did some mathematics/physics in the same ballpark as Hawking’s celebrated black-hole work so guessed James was asking because he knew I used to know something about this. Or perhaps it was because he knew that Hawking ran over my foot in a bar at the 17th International General Relativity and Gravitation conference in Dublin back in 2004? Either way, James had given me a pass to go and watch the beautiful Eddie Redmayne for the evening!

Twitter’s favourite fictional mathematicians

In an idle moment of wondering, I asked a simple question on Twitter:

The response was overwhelming. Here’s a guide to the non-existent number crunchers you should know about, and some you probably already do.