Monday, December 11, 2006

1200-year-old problem 'easy'

Schoolchildren from Caversham have become the first to learn a brand new theory that dividing by zero is possible using a new number - 'nullity'. But the suggestion has left many mathematicians cold. Given the, er, light-hearted mathematical debate Dr Anderson's theory has generated, we're delighted to announce he will join us on Tuesday 12 December to answer questions and discuss some of the criticisms levelled against his theory of 'nullity'. You will be able to hear in more detail from Dr Anderson on this page later on Tuesday. Watch a video report from BBC South Today's Ben Moore, then let Dr Anderson talk you through his theory in simple steps on the whiteboard: video Dividing by zero: Ben Moore reports > video Dr Anderson's theory in detail > Dr James Anderson, from the University of Reading's computer science department, says his new theorem solves an extremely important problem - the problem of nothing. "Imagine you're landing on an aeroplane and the automatic pilot's working," he suggests. "If it divides by zero and the computer stops working - you're in big trouble. If your heart pacemaker divides by zero, you're dead." Computers simply cannot divide by zero. Try it on your calculator and you'll get an error message. But Dr Anderson has come up with a theory that proposes a new number - 'nullity' - which sits outside the conventional number line (stretching from negative infinity, through zero, to positive infinity). 'Quite cool' The theory of nullity is set to make all kinds of sums possible that, previously, scientists and computers couldn't work around. "We've just solved a problem that hasn't been solved for twelve hundred years - and it's that easy," proclaims Dr Anderson having demonstrated his solution on a whiteboard at Highdown School, in Emmer Green. "It was confusing at first, but I think I've got it. Just about," said one pupil. "We're the first schoolkids to be able to do it - that's quite cool," added another. Despite being a problem tackled by the famous mathematicians Newton and Pythagoras without success, it seems the Year 10 children at Highdown now know their nullity. Watch a video report from BBC South Today's Ben Moore, then let Dr Anderson talk you through his theory in simple steps on the whiteboard: video Dividing by zero: Ben Moore reports > video Dr Anderson's theory in detail >

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