The Loh Down On Science

What math and great art have in common may surprise you!

Who’s the Mona Lisa of math formulas?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with The Loh Down on Science.

To many of us, mathematical formulas are just squiggles on a blackboard.  But a mathematician sees unparalleled beauty in those numbers, letters and symbols. 

Take Euler’s Identity.  Mathematicians agree it’s one of the comeliest of formulas. Simple … profound … abstract … yet expressive of a universal truth.  Better than a sunset! 

And beauty, it turns out, is in the mind of the beholder.

Researchers at University College London proved it.  They held a “beauty contest” for math formulas.  

Fifteen male and female college mathematicians were asked to review sixty formulas and rate them from "ugliest" to "most beautiful."  Later, the researchers monitored their brain activity with a functional MRI scanner while they ogled the so-called contestants.

When people saw the highest-rated, or most beautiful, examples, their brain scans showed increased activity in the medial orbito-frontal cortex.  That’s the same area that lights up when we appreciate great art or music.  

Top three beauties?  The Pythagorean Identity, the Cauchy-Riemann equations,  and – no surprise – lovely Euler’s Identity.

So, as it turns out, a perfect mathematical formula is … a perfect “10”!  Can’t wait for the movie.  Or at least the remake.

***** For more 90-SECOND SCIENCE FACTS, click here.*****

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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