Main content


Melvyn Bragg discusses symmetry in art and nature. From snowflakes and butterflies to the music of Bach and the poems of Pushkin.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss symmetry. Found in Nature - from snowflakes to butterflies - and in art in the music of Bach and the poems of Pushkin, symmetry is both aesthetically pleasing and an essential tool to understanding our physical world. The Greek philosopher Aristotle described symmetry as one of the greatest forms of beauty to be found in the mathematical sciences, while the French poet Paul Valery went further, declaring; “The universe is built on a plan, the profound symmetry of which is somehow present in the inner structure of our intellect”.The story of symmetry tracks an extraordinary shift from its role as an aesthetic model - found in the tiles in the Alhambra and Bach's compositions - to becoming a key tool to understanding how the physical world works. It provides a major breakthrough in mathematics with the development of group theory in the 19th century. And it is the unexpected breakdown of symmetry at sub-atomic level that is so tantalising for contemporary quantum physicists.So why is symmetry so prevalent and appealing in both art and nature? How does symmetry enable us to grapple with monstrous numbers? And how might symmetry contribute to the elusive Theory of Everything?With Fay Dowker, Reader in Theoretical Physics at Imperial College, London; Marcus du Sautoy, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford; Ian Stewart, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Warwick.

Available now

45 minutes

Last on

Thu 19 Apr 2007 21:30


  • Thu 19 Apr 2007 09:00
  • Thu 19 Apr 2007 21:30

Featured in...

In Our Time podcasts

In Our Time podcasts

Every episode of In Our Time is available to download.

The In Our Time Listeners' Top 10

The In Our Time Listeners' Top 10

If you’re new to In Our Time, this is a good place to start.

Arts and Ideas podcast

Arts and Ideas podcast

Download the best of Radio 3's Free Thinking programme.