From landing a car-sized rover on Mars, to the use of invisible waves in cell phones, garage door openers, and GPS tracking devices, mathematics is an important part of modern life.
Why is mathematics so successful in discovering truths about nature? Is reality based entirely on mathematics, or is mathematics just a human invention? This thoughtful video presents the history and “unreasonable effectiveness” of mathematics in the history of science, from Pythagoras to the Higgs Particle. Along the way, we learn how scientists and engineers use mathematics as a tool of discovery and invention.
Some of the fundamental mathematical rules that govern ordinary life are examined. For example, how a set of numbers named the Fibonacci sequence is found in natural objects such as pinecones and flowers, how the number Pi describes not only circles, but a host of apparently unrelated phenomena such as the dropping of a pin, and that objects fall in a manner described by the Law of Falling Bodies.
The video includes a galaxy of past and current scientists, artists, and engineers, and describes the importance and usefulness of mathematics in their work. We learn the thoughts and discoveries of Pythagoras, Aristotle, Galileo, Newton, Maxwell, and Marconi, as well as the work of current luminaries such as physicists Max Tegmark and Mario Livio, jazz musician Esmerelda Spaulding, and Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer Adam Steltzner.
NOVA: The Great Math Mystery serves as a compliment to mathematics and science instruction in that it discusses the philosophical mysteries inherent in math, as well as many of its practical applications such as radio waves, gravity, the discovery of Neptune, and the existence of a “zoo” of subatomic particles. The video provides good answers to questions such as “why do we have to learn this?”
The PDF contains a two-sided video worksheet consisting of 45 multiple choice and true-or-false questions, along with an answer key, and an MS Word download link. You will need to obtain a DVD of the video, use the PBS Internet site, or YouTube