Florence NightingaleMay is the month in which Florence Nightingale was born (May 12, 1820). Known primarily as a pioneer in nursing, the famous "lady with the lamp" during the Crimean War, she was also a pioneer in statistics and applied mathematics. As a child, she begged her parents to let her study mathematics. She learned arithmetic, geometry and algebra. Her work in medical statistics helped reform hospital care. She was a pioneer in the method of presenting data graphically, creating colorful diagrams to dramatize medical data. She was the first woman other than the queen to appear on British currency.
Maria AgnesiMay is also the month in which the mathematician Maria Agnesi was born (May 16, 1718). She wrote the first mathematics book by a woman that still survives and was the first woman appointed as a mathematics professor at a university.
The formula that has been at the top of this page all year is the quadratic formula. It is the formula for the solutions to the general quadratic equation ax2+bx+c=0. Algebra students are expected to memorize it. Stop whining. Be glad Algebra students are not expected to memorize the formula for the solutions to the general cubic equation ax3+bx2+cx+d=0. This formula has been known for almost 500 years. That there is no formula using radicals for the solutions to general polynomial equations of degree five or higher was proved by the mathematician Niels Abel in 1824.
Melencolia I is a well-known engraving by the German artist Albrecht Dürer (born May 21, 1471). It was made 500 years ago (1514). It is not large, smaller than a sheet of notebook paper. The original engraving is at the Städel Museum. The art in the Städel was relocated to the basement of a Bavarian castle during World War II and was found by the Americans portrayed in the film The Monuments Men. Melencolia I is a favorite of mathematicians due to the numerous mathematical references in it:
  • The compass
  • The 4x4 magic square (the two middle cells in the bottom row give the date of the engraving)
  • The truncated polyhedron (the shape is known as Dürer's solid)
  • The hourglass
  • The scale
  • No, the expression on the girl's face that many describe as dark and unhappy is not one of the math references.
James GarfieldJames Garfield, the 20th president of the United States, came up with an interesting way to prove the Pythagorean Theorem while serving in Congress. His proof involves equating the area of a trapezoid and three right triangles.
Garfield died in office. He was shot by an assassin and lingered with an infection for over two months. He was moved from Washington, DC to the Jersey Shore hoping the fresh air and quiet would help him recover. He died in Long Branch.
The Rhind papyrus is a well-known Egyptian mathematical artifact that is over 3,600 years old. It is about a foot tall and almost 20 feet long and has been at the British Museum since the 1800's. Small parts of it are kept at the Brooklyn Museum. None of the pieces is currently on display at either museum. Problem 30 on the papyrus in modern algebraic notation is to solve the following equation. Can you can solve it?
"Home duties are not to be neglected for mathematics."
-Florence Nightingale's mother

World Language students, try reading this site in Spanish or French.