Where do Mathematical Symbols Come From?


Professor Sarah Hart





Sarah Hart is the first woman Professor of Geometry at Gresham College, and was appointed in 2020. She is Professor of Mathematics and Head of Mathematics and Statistics at Birkbeck, University of London.

She studied at Oxford and Manchester, gaining her PhD in 2000. Postdoctoral research and teaching followed, including a prestigious Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council Fellowship, before she was appointed to a lectureship at Birkbeck in 2004. She has been Professor of Mathematics there since 2013. She is also Vice President of the British Society for the History of Mathematics.

Sarah is an active researcher, publishing mainly in the area of pure mathematics known as group theory, which has many applications both inside and outside of mathematics, for example in coding theory and cryptography. She is passionate about communicating mathematics and is a sought-after public speaker. She is particularly interested in the links between mathematics, culture and creativity: many of her public lectures and talks in schools are on this topic, especially on mathematics and art.

In 2020-21, Professor Hart will be lecturing on Mathematics in Music and Writing, part of a three-year exploration of Mathematics, Culture and Creativity.

Professor Hart’s lecture series is as follows:

2020/21 Mathematics in Music and Writing

All lectures by the Gresham Professors of Geometry can be found here.

Where do we get our mathematical symbols from? Why is the set of integers called ℤ #? When was the equals sign first used? How about zero? Good notation tends to catch on quickly, whereas bad notation can obscure beautiful theory.

The lecture explored how the introduction of new notation has paved the way for new leaps in understanding, and considered some mathematical quirks of language, such as what the number 4 in English has in common with the number 11 in Russian.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s