The Open University tellson BBC FOUR

Mathematics is the king and queen of the sciences. End of argument.
Simply put, without mathematics, maths to its friends, there would be no physics, nor chemistry, nor cosmology or astronomy. Any field of study depending on statistics, geometry, or any kind of calculation would simply cease to be.

Then, there are the practical applications: without maths there’s no architecture. No commerce. No accurate maps or time-keeping: therefore no navigation, nor aviation, electricity or cars – the list of maths-dependent disciplines is endless.

In this landmark series of four films for BBC FOUR, co-produced byThe Open University, Professor Marcus du Sautoy escorts viewers on a journey that takes him through the ages and around the world, to Egypt, China, India, Russia, The Middle East, Europe and America.

He examines the development of key mathematical ideas and shows how, in a multitude of surprising and innovative ways, how these concepts underpin the science, technology, and culture that shaped our world.

Marcus shows how mathematics was part of the bedrock of intellectual life in the world’s great civilisations. It was central to the survival of some of the world’s most powerful empires. And how even today, mathematical knowledge remains the motor-force that drives the modern world. If you’re reading this on a computer screen, PDA or mobile phone, thank maths.

The films in this ambitious series offer clear, accessible explanations of important mathematical ideas but are also packed with engaging anecdotes, fascinating biographical details, and pivotal episodes in the lives of the great mathematicians.

Engaging, enlightening and entertaining, the series gives viewers new and often surprising insights into the central importance of mathematics, establishing this discipline to be one of humanity’s greatest cultural achievements.

Robin Wilson, Professor of Pure Mathematics with The Open University and an academic adviser for the series said: "To many people, Maths is the subject they learned at school: a dry list of numbers, equations and formulas and was always so.

"But that’s not what maths is really like. Mathematics is a creative, fluid human activity, invented, conceived, refined and expanded on by humans.

"Like art, music and literature, maths has a history and a pantheon of pioneers, such as Pythagoras, Archimedes and Sir Isaac Newton. In the series, Marcus stands next to a statue of Newton and asks passers-by, who he was and what he did. Only one person knew about his greatest mathematical accomplishment - and it had nothing to do with being hit by an apple!

“The programme looks at the development of mathematical knowledge in the ancient world in Egypt, Mesopotamia, China, India, Greece and Baghdad. In fact, the first quadratic equations were solved in what is now Iraq.

“The history of maths is important in understanding its development but the series also looks at its contemporary forms and applications. For instance, many people have had fun with Prime Numbers, but they were of little practical use until the rise of cryptography in the past 20 or 30 years. The security of your bank account or credit card is largely based on prime numbers." has a large variety of material to support the series including many interactive mathematical games. Marcus du Sautoy also reveals more abut his personal journey through the history of maths, and some surprising secrets about the way ancient cultures counted are explored further at

The Open University has also launched a special 10 point short course calledTM190 The Story of Mathsto accompany the series. It is for people who want to take their curiosity and learning about the series further.

Editor’s Notes

The Story of Maths is an Open University/BBC co-production for BBC FOUR.

The series will broadcast on BBC FOUR from Monday October 6 at 9pm and for three weeks subsequently.

Executive Producer for the BBC is David Okuefuna. Series Producer for the BBC is Kim Duke. Executive Producer for The Open University is Catherine McCarthy. The Open University Academic Advisers are Prof Robin Wilson, Prof Jeremy Gray and Dr June Barrow-Green. Broadcast Learning Executive for The Open University is Dr Janet Sumner.

The Open University and BBC have been in partnership for more than 30 years, providing educational programming to a mass audience. In recent times this partnership has evolved from late night programming for delivering courses to peak time programmes with a broad appeal to encourage wider participation in learning.

All broadcast information is correct at time of issue.


Related Courses and programmes from The Open University:-
- TM190 The Story of Maths
- MU120 Open Mathematics
- Y162 Starting with Maths
- MST121 Using Mathematics
- MS221 Exploring Maths
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