The Beauty of Mathematics, with Jeremy Irons

Jeremy Irons as Cambridge Mathematician G.H. Hardy and Dev Patel as math genius Srinivasa Ramanujan from “The Man Who Knew Infinity.” Credit: Warner Bros.

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About This Episode

In this episode of StarTalk, Neil Tyson explores the language of the universe through the lens of self-taught math genius and college dropout Ramanujan, the subject of the recent movie, The Man Who Knew Infinity. Not only does Neil interview one of the stars of that movie, Jeremy Irons, who plays the great Cambridge University mathematician G.H. Hardy, and the movie’s director, Matt Brown, but he also has the movie’s consultant, mathematics professor Ken Ono, as his in-studio guest. If you know nothing about Srinivasa Ramanujan, prepare to be amazed. You’ll hear how, at the age of 12 or thirteen, Ramanujan invented trigonometry for himself, only to eventually discover it already existed. Discover how Ramanujan tried to get into Cambridge, only to be rejected by Hardy’s colleagues, who didn’t understand his equations, while Hardy saw the spark of genius and gave the man from Madras a chance. We’ll explore his infamous notebooks filled with mathematical formulas that the most brilliant minds in mathematics have been trying to figure out for over 100 years – mostly because he didn’t bother to include explanations of how he came up with them. His work is used in both string theory and quantum gravity – two subjects that didn’t exist in his lifetime – and you’ll never guess where Ramanujan himself thought his inspiration came from. Test yourself as co-host Eugene Mirman asks Cosmic Queries about the Fibonacci Sequence and the Golden Ratio, using math to communicate with aliens, and whether math is invented or discovered. Plus, Neil and Ken try to explain why people fear math, Mona Chalabi shares data comparing US students to students around the world in math scores, and Bill Nye is on the streets of NYC to discuss right angles, the Pythagorean Theorem, and Manhattan’s Flat Iron Building.

NOTE: All-Access subscribers can listen to this entire episode commercial-free here: The Beauty of Mathematics, with Jeremy Irons.

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  • Pravin Mittal

    Prof Tyson – Thanks for sharing the Ramanujan story. It was inspiring. Since you bring such amazing stories about science and technology. I happen to come across of ancient mathematician Pingala who is attributed to have discovered Fibonacci numbers well before Fibonacci.

    He discovered using analysis of language and poetry.

    I though sharing this with you so that you can share with others.

  • Guest

    Unfortunately Mr. Mirman is such an unwanted distraction, interrupting too often and at the wrong places.

  • Guest

    Jesus Irons can’t joke. So so serious! Lol.

  • Roger Ball

    On the TV version of this talk there is an expression for pi using odd numbers. If you were expand this expression to the odd number 15, how do you evaluate this expression? Thanks

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