../Morning Post
Posted October 30, 2009
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Ted Talks

Marcus du Sautoy: Symmetry, reality's riddle



The world turns on symmetry -- from the spin of subatomic particles to the dizzying beauty of an arabesque. But there's more to it than meets the eye. Here, Oxford mathematician Marcus du Sautoy offers a glimpse of the invisible numbers that marry all symmetrical objects.

Oxford's newest science ambassador Marcus du Sautoy is also author of The Times' Sexy Maths column. He'll take you footballing with prime numbers, whopping symmetry groups, higher dimensions and other brow-furrowers.

Marcus du Sautoy only permits prime numbers on the uniforms of his football team, but that idiosyncrasy isn't (entirely) driven by superstition -- just pure love. (His number is 17.) You might say primes, "the atoms of mathematics," as he calls them, are du Sautoy's intellectual spouse, the passion that has driven him from humble-enough academic beginnings to a spectacular and awarded career in maths, including a Royal Society fellowship and, of course, his recent election to the Simonyi Professorship for the Public Understanding of Science, the post previously held by Richard Dawkins.

A gifted science communicator -- interesting fashion sense aside -- du Sautoy has most recently been host of the BBC miniseries "The Story of Maths," which explores fascinating mathematical theories and techniques from throughout history and across cultures. Before that, he hosted The Num8er My5teries, a lecture series on history's stubbornest math problems -- the sorts of conundrums that get your head griddle-hot with thinking. He's also author, perhaps most famously, of The Music of the Primes, an engaging look at the often Pyrrhic attempts at cracking the Riemann Hypothesis. His 2008 book, Symmetry: A Journey into the Patterns of Nature, looks at various kinds of mathematical and aesthetic symmetry, including a massive, mysterious object called "the Monster" that exists in 196,883 dimensions.

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