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Imaginary Numbers

Duration:
45 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 23 September 2010

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss imaginary numbers. In the sixteenth century, a group of mathematicians in Bologna found a solution to a problem that had puzzled generations before them: a completely new kind of number. For more than a century this discovery was greeted with such scepticism that the great French thinker Rene Descartes dismissed it as an "imaginary" number.

The name stuck - but so did the numbers. Long dismissed as useless or even fictitious, the imaginary number i and its properties were first explored seriously in the eighteenth century. Today the imaginary numbers are in daily use by engineers, and are vital to our understanding of phenomena including electricity and radio waves.

With

Marcus du Sautoy
Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University

Ian Stewart
Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at the University of Warwick

Caroline Series
Professor of Mathematics at the University of Warwick

Producer: Thomas Morris.

  • FURTHER READING

    Imagining Numbers: (particularly the square root of minus fifteen) by Barry Mazur (Picador, 2004)

    An Imaginary Tale: The Story of i (the square root of minus one) by Paul J. Nahin (Princeton University Press, 1998)

    Mathematics: From the Birth of Numbers by Jan Gullberg (W. W. Norton & Company, 1997)

    A History of Mathematics by Carl B. Boyer and Uta C. Merzbach (Wiley, 2010)

    Taming the Infinite by Ian Stewart (Quercus, 2009)

    A Concise History of Mathematics by Dirk Jan Struik (Dover Publications)

    Visual Complex Analysis by Tristan Needham (Oxford University Press, 1997)

    Mathematics and its History by John Stillwell (Springer, 3rd edition, 2010)

    What Is Mathematics? An Elementary Approach to Ideas and Methods by Richard Courant, Herbert Robbins and Ian Stewart (Oxford University Press, USA, 1996)

    Complex Numbers from A to Z by Titu Andreescu & Dorin Andrica (Birkhäuser, Boston, 2005)

    Complex Numbers and Geometry by Liang-shin Hahn (Cambridge University Press / The Mathematical Association of America, 1996)

    Indra’s Pearls: The Vision of Felix Klein by David Mumford, Caroline Series and David Wright (Cambridge University Press, 2002)

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