Friday, August 6, 2010

First Leelavati Prize Goes to Simon Singh





By Vinod Varshney

Simon Lehna Singh, physicist-turned British author of Indian origin has been chosen for the first Leelavati Award that has been instituted for outstanding contribution to public outreach in mathematics by an individual.

This international award had been instituted on the name of the 12th century Sanskrit book “Leelavati” dealing with arithmetic and algebra.

In medieval India mathematics used to be popularized and taught in verse. The superb example is the treatise “Leelavati”. The book posed problems in verse and also gave hints for solutions.

Leelavati, a Daughter of India

Leelavati is told to be the daughter of 12th century mathematician Bhaskaracharya who wanted to teach mathematics to his daughter. He did so by composing this treatise

One can imagine how lucid it would have been teaching and learning of mathematics during that time though the education was allowed to the select few. Compare it with how mathematics is taught in a boring fashion today by incompetent teachers in India.

One may ask what Simon Lehna Singh has done to deserve this ten lakh rupees prize? He actually tried using latest media TV and Film to do a little bit exactly the same what Bhaskaracharya had done eight hundred years ago—popularize mathematics by Leelavati.

Why No Indian Living in India Becomes a Simon
Question however in India will crop up why any Simon Lehna Singh could not grow up here. Obviously the current money-minting culture of media is to blame for this. It does not care to create opportunities of such kind of serious work.

Simon, whose parents emigrated from Punjab to Britain in 1950, like millions thronging UK now, in 1990 joined BBC’s ‘Science and Features’ department. And it made all the difference. In 1996 he directed a documentary Fermat’s Last Theorem.

This was after the acclaimed solution, by the British mathematician Andrew Wiles in 1995, of one of the world’s most challenging problems in mathematics – the proof of the famous conjecture made by the French mathematician Pierre de Fermat in 1637.

The documentary exploration of the celebrated problem also formed the subject for Singh’s first book, Fermat’s Last Theorem (1997). This was perhaps the first-ever popular book on mathematics to become a best-seller.

Do Indians Know Leelavati

Many Indians, including IT geeks who create new softwares in thousands of companies world over, do not know what Leelavati is.

This work of Bhaskaracharya was also translated into Persian and was influenced mathematicians in West Asia.

The Leelavati award will be given away at the upcoming 2010 International Congress of Mathematicians to be held at Hyderabad, India, during 19–27 August.

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