Visiting the OU History of Science Collection

We wanted to tell you about a couple of the things we saw at the OU History of Science tour:

An original copy of the 1557 The Whetstone of Witte by Robert Recorde.  Why care?  Because it’s the very first use of the equals sign!  Check it out:

It’s in English but maybe is a little hard to read.  It says:

Howbeit, for easie alteration of equations. I will propounde a fewe exanples, bicause the extraction of their rootes, maie the more aptly bee wroughte. And to avoide the tediouse repetition of these woordes : is equalle to : I will sette as I doe often in woorke use, a pair of paralleles, or Gemowe lines of one lengthe, thus: =, bicause noe .2. thynges, can be moare equalle.

Pretty cool, huh?  Amusing, to say x^{8} he would instead call it “the zenzizenzizenzic of x”!  Somehow that didn’t catch on.  But it’s a good scrabble word if you have all the z’s!  See here for more.

From the history of Calculus, we saw first editions from the 1600’s of Newton’s Principia and Liebniz’s first publication on Calculus (where you could see that he already used the dx notation we still use!).  Here’s a picture of the OU copy of Principia:

Newton's Principia


We saw lots of other cool things, but we should at least mention one that fits the season:  An original of the 1611 book by Kepler called Strena Seu de Nive Sexangula (A New Year’s Gift of Hexagonal Snow).  Why is this cool?  Besides Kepler being a famous fellow, this book of his is the first scientific book about snowflakes!  Here’s a page from OU’s copy:

Kepler's book on snowflakes where he states the famous Kepler Conjecture


It is also where Kepler made his famous conjecture on the most compact way to pack spheres of the same size.  This is the famous Kepler Conjecture which was more-or-less solved (Kepler was correct!) 367 years later in 1998 by Thomas Hales.  Why “more-or-less”?  Hales’ proof needed computers to solve literally thousands of cases.  Since no human could possibly check every case, the panel of 12 referees could only be “99% certain” of the correctness of the proof.  But since a proof is supposed to be air-tight, not all mathematicians agree that Thales proved Kepler’s Conjecture.

We should mention that the History of Science Collection is on the top floor of Bizzell Library and is open to the public during business hours. Stop by and check out some of these amazing books!


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