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Tell a friend squaring the circle

squaring the circle

I’d always wondered what the phrase "squaring the circle" meant. I figured it must mean something important, because it’s inspired titles for odd-shaped blank books and an obscure television show, as well as metaphors for geopolitics, economics, ecology, and even the performance and audio arts.

I posed the question to a friend who works in the Math Department at U.C. Berkeley. Her field is geometry, so I was sure that she’d be able to explain it to me. Weirdly, however, she didn’t know what "squaring the circle" meant, and she was barely even familiar with the phrase!

"And you call yourself a math professor!" I joked.

"Actually," she explained, "there are a lot of things we math professors don’t know. We specialize in one field, and it’s usually on the cutting edge of something new that’s being discovered."

Fair enough — but weren’t the essential discoveries of the ancient Greek mathematicians covered in, say, undergraduate school? Apparently not. So while my friend is busying herself with the probability of heat flow on geometric objects — or some such thing — I wikied Ferdinand von Lindemann, ruler-and-compass constructions and the Archimedean spiral, which kind of resembles the Cooking.com logo.

While I kind of get it now, the next time I have a math question, I might just go ask Winnie Cooper.

Posted February 16, 2006 by Mariva in education, innovations

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