Fields Medal, Favorite Numbers, and The Grapes of Math

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch! And, if you’re a student or teacher, welcome to a new school year!

fieldsOne of the most exciting events in the world of math happened this August– the awarding of the Fields Medal! This award honors young mathematicians who have already done awesome mathematical work and who show great promise for the future. It also only happens every four years, at the beginning of an important math conference called the International Congress of Mathematicians, so it’s a very special occasion when it does!


Maryam Mirzakhani, first woman ever to win a Fields Medal

Maryam Mirzakhani, first woman ever to win a Fields Medal

This year’s award was even more special than usual, though. Not only were there four winners (more than the usual two or three), but one of the winners was a woman!

Now, if you’re like me, you probably heard about the Fields Medal and thought, “There’s no way I’ll understand the math that these Field Medalists do.” But this couldn’t be more wrong! Thanks to these great articles from Quanta Magazine, you can learn a lot about the super-interesting math that the Fields Medalists study– and why they study it.


Manjul Bhargava

One thing you’ll immediately notice is that each Fields Medalist has non-math interests that inspire their mathematical work. Take Manjul, for instance. When he was a kid, his grandfather introduced him to Sanskrit poetry. He was fascinated by the patterns in the rhythms of the poems, and the number patterns that he found inspired him to study the mathematics of number patterns– number theory!

But, don’t just take my word for it– you can read all about Manjul and the others in these great articles! And did I mention that they come with videos about each mathematician? 

Want to read more about this year’s Fields Medallists? Check out Alex Bellos’s article in The Guardian. Which brings me to…

download… What’s your favorite number? Is it 7? If it is, then you’re in good company! Alex polled more than 30,000 people about their favorite number, and the most popular was 7. But why? What’s so special about 7? Here’s why Alex thinks 7 is such a favorite:

grapes-of-mathWhy do you like your favorite number? People gave Alex all kinds of different reasons. One woman said about 3, her favorite number, “3 wishes. On the count of 3. 3 little pigs… great triumvirates!” Alex made these questions the topic of the first chapter of his new book, The Grapes of Math. (Get the reference?) In this book, Alex shares many curious ways that math appears in our world. Did you know that a weird pattern in numbers can be used to catch criminals? Or that the Game of Life, a simple computer program, shares surprisingly many characteristics with real life? These are only a few of the hundreds of topics Alex covers in his book. Whether you’re a math whiz or a newbie, you’ll learn something new on every page.

Alex currently writes about math for The Guardian in a blog called, “Alex’s Adventures in Numberland”— but he also loves and writes about soccer (or futbol, as it’s called in his native Brazil)! He even wrote a few articles for his blog about math and soccer. 

Do you have any questions for Alex? (About math, soccer, or their intersection?) Write them here and you might find them featured in our interview with Alex!

Good writing about math is hard to find. If you’ve ever picked up a standard math textbook, you’ll know what I mean. But reading something fascinating, that grabs your interest from the first page and leads you through the most complex ideas like they’re as natural as anything you’ve observed, is a great way to learn. The Grapes of Math and “Alex’s Adventures in Numberland” do just that. Give them a go!

Bon appetit!


40 responses »

  1. I never really noticed the sevan was a lonely number but than I relised it is by watching this video. I find that video very interesting because its like the sevan seas or the 7 dwarfs.

    • Hi Sammy! Thanks for your comment! I agree that it’s interesting that 7 turns up in many places. Maybe that makes 7 not so lonely after all, with all those seas and dwarfs to keep it company.

  2. i learned that the number seven is a special and a loner out of the others. I also learned that there are seven planets but that’s just a coincidence.

  3. Pingback: Class Opener – Day 5 – Our Favorite Numbers | mathcoachblog

  4. I agree with him, i think because humans are sensitive to unique numbers and 7 is a unique number.That is one reason it could be used so much. Thanks

  5. I think that it is so cool that 7 is a lonely number. And I realized that 7 is the only one of all the numbers from 1 to 10 that is not divisible or not a multiple of ANYTHING. That is so cool!

  6. This video showed a lot of reasons why 7 could be a special number. He made that believable by showing 7 is not divisible or can be doubled. This was a great video and i really liked how he explained clearly.

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  8. Seven (7) is also my favorite number and I cannot even explain why, but after watching this video, it suddenly made sense. I am also intrigued that finally there is a woman who won the Fields medal.

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  10. I haven’t really thought about why people think number seven is a lucky number. I just thought it was superstition just like people say that thirteen is a number that brings bad luck. After watching this video though I have to agree that seven is a special and unique number.

  11. Wow! I never knew that 7 was a lonely number and that that eveyone uses it, this is so cool, like the 7 seas 7sister 7dwarves! i never knew 7 was so popular

  12. I never thought about seven being the loner. I just realized that noticing how coincidences there are. Like, the seven seas, the seven dwarfs, and the seven planets of course! Also, I just realized that 7 cannot be divided by the numbers 1-10! After watching this video, I agree that seven is special and unique I its own way!

  13. Love this video. It is interesting to use as a way to engage students in numbers, or math. The video is a great summary of how favorite numbers are connected with our live.

  14. I thought this video was very interesting.The number seven. Who knew seven would be used for many things without me even know it! It’s a loner meaning it is not related to any smaller numbers than itself. It can be used to catch criminals. It even stands out as the seven sins, the seven seas, the seven sisters, and the seven dwarfs! Whoa! I wonder if there is any other number that stands out just like seven. I hope you make another video and/or article.

  15. I figured if you add 12 to 7, you get 19, another lonely number. And if you add 12 to 19 you get 31, also another lonely number. I kept adding 12 getting more lonely numbers.

  16. The number seven is very interesting thanks thanks to you. Now I know the it’s related to the 7 dwarfs, the 7 seas, and the seven sins! I hope you make another article on a loner number like 17 and 19.

    • Hi, Angel! Thanks for the comment. What do you like about 17 and 19? I’d definitely be interested in featuring them in an article. Let me know if there’s anything about them that you’d like to see!

  17. I never really took the number seven in consideration how special and different it is to all the other numbers . till know i can tell my friends and my family that i learned something new and ask if they had any idea that the number seven was unique . From this video , i now have a lucky and favorite number that would be seven. Thank you for making me look and think differently about my lucky number seven!

  18. I really never thought 7 was such a special number I think people like to be unique that’s why they think it’s there favorite number

  19. after watching this video i think 7 is special because it is one of the left out numbers and not divisable but before i dident know it was special but now 7 is oe of my favoerite numbers for now one

  20. i think that is really cool that seven is a unique number I am happy because that is my number in baseball. so do that me special to?

    • Hi, Luisa! That’s a really interesting idea. What kinds of rules for math would make 7 feel more included? And would they make other numbers feel left out instead?? Your comment definitely gives me a lot to think about. Thanks for sharing!

  21. Dear,Alex Bellos what made you want to research about the number seven. Also i wanted to ask what goal do you want to complete as a mathematician?

  22. I like the number seven for a lot of reasons the reason I like it the most is because I was born on the seventh but I liked your video.

  23. I like this video because i never really cared for numbers but now i do because now that i watched this video it told me that the number seven is the number we love and i love the number seven to

  24. I enjoyed his explanation on why 7 is unique. I wonder if there’s more to it than just it’s inability to be divided by anything on the basic number scale. I think it is very interesting how it’s closest whole number companion is over 10. The only other odd number above 5 is a square and 5 itself is the middle man. The final idea I have is that the general shape of 7 in any font is appealing to the brain in some way.

  25. The idea for 7 isn’t bad, but who else would do that, and it’s coincidentally the only prime number between 5 and 10, so thats really not showing much. He might be right with the hands but not with the odd divisors.

  26. It’s interesting when you think about 7 this way but I don’t think this even occurs to most people when choosing their favorite number. It’s also strange that one number has all these special things about it.

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