On 410th Birthday, Pierre de Fermat Gets His Own Doodle

The mathematician is known as the father of modern number theory even though he spent most of his time working as a lawyer

pierre_de_fermat-2011-hp.jpg

Those who were never fond of math should probably avoid the Google homepage today as the search giant has turned its logo into a complex formula in celebration of what would have been the 410th birthday of Pierre de Fermat.

Born in France in 1601 (probably -- various biographies place his year of birth anywhere from 1590 to 1608), Fermat studied at the University of Toulouse before earning a law degree from the University of Law at Orleans. Though he worked as a government official and lawyer, Fermat is known as the father of modern number theory.

The formula tweaked by Google's Doodle team, x^n + y^n = z^n, is known around the world as Fermat's Last Theorem. It was discovered in the margins of Fermat's copy of the ancient Greek text Arithmetica, where he noted that the proof was too large to accompany it there. But did Fermat ever actually solve the problem? There's some debate about that as the proof is so complex it took more than 350 years to uncover. Mathematicians struggled with Fermat's Last Theorem for centuries, proving it true for many sets of values for n but always missing out on a general case until Andrew Wiles stepped forward in 1995. The British mathematician spent years working on the problem in secrecy until he completed his proof.

Google's pokes fun at Fermat's marginalia. Mousing over the Doodle pulls up a message: "I have discovered a truly marvelous proof of this theorem, which this Doodle is too small to contain."

Image: Google.

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Nicholas Jackson is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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