It all began in December 1956, when an article about hexaflexagons was published in Scientific American. A hexaflexagon is a hexagonal paper toy which can be folded and then opened out to reveal hidden faces. If you have never made a hexaflexagon, then you should stop reading and make one right now. Once you’ve done so, you will understand why the article led to a craze in New York; you will probably even create your own mini-craze because you will just need to show it to everyone you know.
The author of the article was, of course, Martin Gardner.
Chalkdust is very sad to hear that the 1958 Fields medallist Klaus Friedrich Roth, who was featured in our first issue, passed away on the night of the 9th/10th November in Inverness, Scotland. Born in what was then Prussia in 1925, he spent most of his life in the United Kingdom, graduating with a BA from Peterhouse College, Cambridge, in 1945 and obtaining an MSc (1948) and PhD (1950) from University College London. In 1958, whilst at UCL (1946–66), he was awarded the Fields medal for solving “in 1955 the famous Thue-Siegel problem concerning the approximation to algebraic numbers by rational numbers and [proving] in 1952 that a sequence with no three numbers in arithmetic progression has zero density (a conjecture of Erdös and Turán of 1935)”. In 1966, he was awarded a chair at Imperial College London, where he remained for the rest of his career, retiring in 1988 (although he remained there as a visiting professor until 1996).
You can read more about Klaus Roth and his work on the Thue-Siegel problem here.
When describing John Forbes Nash, Jr (13 June 1928 – 23 May 2015), it’s hard to be more succinct than Richard Duffin, a professor at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, who wrote, in his letter of recommendation to Princeton, that ‘this man is a genius’. It was 1948: Nash, having abandoned a degree in Chemical Engineering for one in Mathematics, was only just embarking on a journey that would ultimately make him one of the most famous mathematicians of the 20th Century. Despite the interest of Harvard University, Nash eventually decided to pursue his graduate studies at Princeton and it was there that he published the 317 word paper, Equilibrium points in N-person games, that introduced the Nash Equilibrium and won him the Nobel Prize for Economics (jointly with Reinhard Selten and John Harsanyi) in 1994. As a result of this work in game theory, Nash was appointed to the RAND Corporation, which applied this relatively young field to the pressing policy issues of the time: nuclear weapons, the space race, the Cold War.
Be proud if you are studying Mathematics at UCL! Looking back, we have numerous famous alumni who later gained significant achievements in their field. One of them is Klaus Roth, who was once a research student at UCL, and later was a lecturer and professor at the university, during which time he won the Fields Medal.
If you haven’t heard of the Fields Medal, it is seen as the equivalent of the ‘Nobel Prize’ in Mathematics (although unfortunately it has a much lower monetary reward) and is awarded every four years by the International Mathematical Union. The award is given to a maximum of four mathematicians each time, all of whom must be under the age of 40 and have made a great contribution to the development of Mathematics. Roth won the Medal in 1958, when he was 33 years old and still a lecturer at UCL (show more respect to your lecturers … you never know!), for having “solved in 1955 the famous Thue-Siegel problem concerning the approximation to algebraic numbers by rational numbers and proved in 1952 that a sequence with no three numbers in arithmetic progression has zero density (a conjecture of Erdös and Turàn of 1935).”