July 31, 2010 by Zoe
“Chuffed” is an understatement to how we felt at the Secret Garden Party when we hosted Marcus du Sautoy, the current Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science. As successor – and far more likeable alternative – to Richard Dawkins, he holds the highest official position in the entire country for endearing the public to science.
Does he do a good job? Well, he packed out our tent with more people than we had ever seen before – more than 140 by our count – with a chat on what most people probably think of as the driest subject they were ever subjected to: maths.
How did he bring it to life?
As butterflies, fairies and costumed crocodiles looked on, he explained why he thinks David Beckham chose the number 23 shirt: because it is a prime number, one of that group of quirky, inflexible numbers that have enchanted mathematicians since they could count. Divisible only by themselves and 1 (such as 2, 5, 13, 37, and on and on – perhaps to infinity), primes are stubborn, inelegant, clumsy, and yet somehow captivating to the numerically minded.
He held the audience for his full hour (and then some), perhaps by pure virtue of being a fantastic and affable speaker. Or maybe it was the enchanting nature of primal mathematics.
We’d wager the most likely explanation is the simplest: that it was a combination of the two.
We heart Marcus du Sautoy.