Wednesday, May 14, 2008

August Ferdinand Mobius - Mystery Math Man for May Revealed

As promised, the contest for May ends around the 15th. Before sharing my own thoughts about Mr. Möbius, I will highlight our three winners for this month:

Susan Hoover

1. Our mystery mathematician (and astronomer!) is August Ferdinand Möbius.

2. He started out studying law because that's what his family wanted, but it was not to his liking, so he switched to mathematics, astronomy, and physics. He studied astronomy under Gauss and mathematics under Gauss's teacher Pfaff. Although his doctorate and his first academic posts were in the field of astronomy, his later, more famous, work is in mathematics, particularly topology and analytic geometry. His name is given to the single-faced, single-edged, two-dimensional surface known as the Möbius strip, although actual discovery and publication of that strip were by Listing.

3. Sources:

Erica Clay

1. August Mobius

2. "Before going out for a walk, he [Mobius] recited the German
formula "3S und Gut" composed of the initial letters of the objects
that he absolutely did not want to forget: Schlüssel (key), Schirm
(umbrella), Sacktuch (handkerchief), Geld (money), Uhr (watch),
Taschenbuch (notebook)."



The mystery mathematician is the most "one-sided" mathematician I have
heard of, i.e., Mobius.
Interestingly, when reading his biography on "Mathtutor: History of
Mathematics," I found that the Mobius Strip was actually invented by

Congratulations to our three winners. Certainly, there are always some fascinating facts or anecdotes that surface when one delves into the backgrounds of these legends of math. I was particularly impressed by Möbius' initial interest in astronomy and that fact that his mentor was someone named Gauss! In addition to his contributions to topology, he also did research in number theory and his name is attached to some important concepts (Möbius Function and Möbius Inversion Formula).

A quote that revealed much to me about the nature of this extraordinary person came from his biographer:

The inspirations for his research he found mostly in the rich well of his own original mind. His intuition, the problems he set himself, and the solutions that he found, all exhibit something extraordinarily ingenious, something original in an uncontrived way. He worked without hurrying, quietly on his own. His work remained almost locked away until everything had been put into its proper place. Without rushing, without pomposity and without arrogance, he waited until the fruits of his mind matured. Only after such a wait did he publish his perfected works...


Totally_clueless said...

A poem I have seen somewhere is of relevance here:

Hickory dickory dip,
A mouse on a moebius strip.
The mouse revolved,
And then dissolved,
In an interdimensional slip.


Eric Jablow said...

That's from Fredric Winsor's A Space Child's Mother Goose, TC. Though I think he used 'chronodimensional' instead of 'interdimensional'.

Eric Jablow said...

Sorry—I should have given full details:

The Space CHild's Mother Goose, first published in 1956, reprinted by Purple House Press in 2001, by Fredrick Winsor, illustrated by Marian Parry, ISBN 1-930900-07-4.

Little Jack Horner
Sits in a corner
Extracting cube roots to infinity,
An assignment for boys
That will minimize noise
And produce a more peaceful vicinity.