Monthly Archives: August 2017

Ancient Trig Tables Decoded!

Plimpton 322 is an ancient Babylonian tablet that has been only now deciphered after a great deal of effort.  It turns out, it is a remarkably accurate trigonometric table!  This breaks the record for both the oldest and the most accurate ancient table of its kind.

Some of the difficulty in deciphering the old mathematical reference comes from the fact that the ancient Babylonians counted in base 60.  (This is, in fact, the reason we use numbers like 360 and 180 to describe angles.  They are were nice round numbers to the Babylonians!)

To learn more about this fascinating discovery, check out the original paper which is available as a free download as long as you are using a computer on the CofC campus.

In Memoriam: Cathleen Morawetz

Another famous mathematician has died, but in many ways this is a less tragic story than the last death we announced on this blog.

Cathleen Morawetz, who was a president of the American Mathematical Society and professor at NYU, died this past weekend at the age of 94.  Her contributions to the mathematical study of waves and shock formation continue to be influential.  In fact, as this article in the New York Times describes, just weeks before her death she attended a conference where younger researchers were using the inequalities that she had proved.

The article also recalls an interesting anecdote about this woman who succeeded as a mathematician at a time that this ran contrary to society’s expectations:

In an interview with the journal Science in 1979, Dr. Morawetz recalled that when her children were young — a time when few women pursued professional careers — people often asked whether she worried about them while she was at work.

Her reply: “No, I’m much more likely to worry about a theorem when I’m with my children.”