Abstract

This blog describes what makes and has made mathematics interesting to me as a kid and still now as a student. Even seemingly simple ideas can have a world-changing impact, and small numbers can have a big influence.

Body

Ever since I was little I have always been interested in mathematics. Many of the questions I asked; ”How far away is the sun?”, ”Why is a year 365 days?”, ”How long does it take to walk around the Earth?”, could be answered by mathematics in some form. Therefore it made sense for it to be interesting.

As I began my schooling I often preferred the science subjects over other disciplines, simply because in my head they made more sense. That is not to say that I disliked English, or History, but solving an equation is much more tangible than discussing the meaning of a poem. A poem has several different interpretations, one for each person who reads it. Though an equation may have several solutions, you can be sure that every person will get the same solutions (as long as they do not make any mistakes). Being able to tell when you are wrong, and exactly where you went wrong,  was one of the nice aspects of mathematics.

Another of my favourite things about mathematics, is the history of the number zero. For us, the number zero is obvious, we use it all the time. If you have no apples, then you have zero apples. However, for a very long time, mathematics had not developed the notion of zero. It represents nothing so it was not as useful when we were mostly using mathematics for counting physical things.

The elegance of the number zero is that it help us write other numbers. For example we use zero when writing the number ‘102’. Here, the 0 tells us that we have no tens. We have 1 hundred, 0 tens, and 2 ones. This is called a positional notation, since we are indicating how many ones, tens, and hundreds we have by the position of the digits. When we are doing advanced arithmetic, positional notation is very useful.

Even now that I am studying mathematics at university, sometimes I am still amazed by these seemingly small things, such as the existence of the number zero. It represents nothing, but is used for everything.

Nelly Tucker
Monash University