Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Mini-Review: Infinite Secrets

The NOVA episode Infinite Secrets

Originally I had hoped that I could show this one-hour video to my gen-ed class. I couldn't tell exactly what it was about when I ordered it, but I was hoping that there was some math in it having something to do with infinity.

Turns out that it's way too subtle for freshmen. They might enjoy it, but they probably wouldn't understand it. The main topic of the video is the Archimedes Palimpsest, and most of the time is spent talking about Archimedes, about the Palimpsest and its history, and about the work of the consevators trying to restore it. The video touches upon Archimedes' method of exhaustion and points out that the Palimpsest shows that not only did Archimedes use this somewhat clumsy technique, but he also used honest-to-goodness integral calculus to find volumes of shapes. But since they don't really explain any of the math, not even the calculus students would understand what the big deal is.

This video might be nice for a History of Math class or for some other interdisciplinary class, but in terms of the freshman-level things that I teach, it would serve little purpose except as a change of pace.