August 17, 2011
Pierre de Fermat's 410th Birthday
Pierre de Fermat was not a particularly revolutionary mathematician. A lawyer full-time, he practiced math as a hobby and never devoted enough time to it to become widely celebrated in his day. His name lives on today, though, because his sly wit generated a mystery for the ages that perplexed mathematicians for 358 years.
Fermat wrote many little theorems, including the deceptively simple Last Theorem, which states that no three positive integers a, b, and c can satisfy the equation an + bn = cn when n is greater than two. Fermat first scrawled this supposition in the margins of the Arithmetica by Diophantus, followed by the note: "I have discovered a truly marvelous proof of this, which this margin is too narrow to contain." It remains hotly contested to this day whether Fermat actually did have a proof, or whether he was just using the convenient excuse of a small margin to avoid being held responsible for it. Either way, his theorem remained unproved until 1995, when British mathematician Andrew Wiles successfully developed a solution – a saga documented in the excellent BBC Horizon documentary, "Fermat's Last Theorem."
We were so tickled by Fermat's little jab that we tried something similar. When this doodle ran, the hover text read: "I have discovered a truly marvelous proof of this theorem, which this doodle is too small to contain."
Posted by Sophia Foster-Dimino