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OpenLearn Live: 20th January 2016

Updated Wednesday 20th January 2016

Three mathematicians who made Berlin their home. Then more free learning through the day.

OpenLearn Live is where your world meets the world of free learning. This page will be updated across the day.

Yesterday we marked Wikipedia's 15th birthday and asked why people think it's cool to struggle with maths

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Today's posts

Respark your career in STEM

Picking up after a career break can be difficult; that's especially true in a fast-moving environment like science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). If you - or someone you know - is looking to pick up their STEM job, we've got a brand new tool that might help...

Reboot Your STEM Career Interactive Creative commons image Icon The Open University under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license

There's encouragement from women who have made successes of their work in the field; tips on how to shape your CV and keep your skills fresh. Even if it's not your field, or you're not re-entering STEM, you might find something to help you...

Try our Reboot your STEM career tool

Listening to the whistleblower

The OU's Ray Corrigan shares his take on the recent interview between Eric King, Director of Don't Spy on Us and Deputy Director of Privacy International, and NSA whistleblower Bill Binney:

Without bulk collection, the argument goes, they can't find new threats. Binney insists this is "absolutely false." They never start with an empty slate. If they take a targeted approach instead, they can define rules of association round social networks and associated zones of suspicion.

General Alexander of the NSA said we want to "collect it all". So he commits the agencies to gathering more and more data every year and therefore the government to the non-audited and unlimited ongoing funding of same. It means an ever increasing budget for any agency involved in such activities, including for GCHQ. So that, asserts Binney, is their motive for mass surveillance.

Watch the interview and read Ray's take

An address in Berlin: Ernst Kummer

This week, in honour of David Bowie's creative period living in Berlin, we're exploring others who found a creative spark in the city. Yesterday, we heard how WH Auden came to discover his true self there. Today, we're marking a group of mathematicians who came together.

Ernst Kummer Copyright free image Icon Copyright free: Public domain Ernst Kummer The hub of the trio was Ernst Kummer. Born in Sorau, Kummer's aptitude for maths was first spotted while he was still a schoolteacher. Impressed by a paper Kummer published on the hypergeometric series, Carl Jacobi was instrumental in ensuring Kummer's election to the Berlin Academy of Sciences and, equally importantly, a university post at the University of Breslau (in what is now Poland). It was during this post - adopted in 1842 - that Kummer started his work on number theory.

Kummer came to Berlin in 1855 and, keen to work alongside Karl Weierstrauss, Ernst pulled a stroke. He knew that Breslau would be looking to fill his post, and he equally knew that Weierstrauss would be a perfect candidate. He quickly proposed to the university authorities that they snap up Ferdinand Joachimsthal for the role. They did, and Weierstrauss was thus free to be installed in a position at the Royal Polytechnic School. Already admired for his work on Abelian functions, Weierstrauss would go on to become a giant in the field of convergence.

The third of the trio was Leopold Kronecker. He came from a wealthy background, and originally worked as a banker. His financial position, though, allowed him to concentrate heavily on maths; first attending, then conversing with Kummer, Kronecker's work on number theory, elliptic function theory and algebra was strong enough to see him elected to the Academy. That membership, in turn, to become a guest lecturer at Berlin's University.

By 1860, these three were installed in the Prussian capital. Their work would come to dominate European mathematical thinking for the next quarter-century.

See more from OpenLearn on Maths


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