Our studio guest: Prof. Günter M. Ziegler, Mathematician, Berlin Technical University. | Environment | DW | 02.01.2009
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Our studio guest: Prof. Günter M. Ziegler, Mathematician, Berlin Technical University.

Günther Ziegler, one of Julia's professors and the president of the German Mathematical Society. He's already been a guest on the show a couple of times in this year of mathematics.


DW-TV: First of all, we've got the granddaddy of computers here. This is an abacus. Can you tell us a little about the principle behind it?

Günther Ziegler: Well of course, I don't have any practice in working with this, but this is singletons, 1,2,3,4 5; and these mean fives, and two fives make a ten, which would be in the next row. So basically, it's very close to how we compute and how we calculate in everyday life.

DW-TV: Now let's get back to Julia Ruscher here. There are a few similarities between the two of you. You both finished university very quickly, you won prizes, offered jobs at a very young age. But you, I understand, are a big fan of literature. Is it really important for mathematicians to have other hobbies?

Günther Ziegler: I think mathematics is close to life and it's connected to many things, but of course, you don't want to just study one subject like mathematics. And you have to concentrate on it a lot, but you don't want to do this one thing only in your life. And so I think ... the mathematicians I know have many interests and many hobbies. Many of them are good in music, many of them read, some of them write. It's all part of mathematics, and it connects to mathematics.

DW-TV: Yes, music also of course having a lot to do with mathematics. What I was wondering though is whether or not there are a lot of women ,.. math is traditionally considered a boy's science. Are there a lot of women in your department, or is Julia an exception?

Günther Ziegler: I think we have two women on the faculty, in the department, but we have fifty percent women in the students and in the beginners, and I think the stereotype is breaking and is changing, and we are working on that. And math is a women's science as much as a men's science, and we need them all. I mean, maths is an important subject and if we somehow exclude half of the people from doing it, then we lose a lot.

DW-TV: Right. Now it is, though, pretty hard to make math riveting for students in the way that maybe some other subjects can be. A lot of people find math classes boring, or just difficult to understand. How can we really make math attractive to young people?

Günther Ziegler: I mean, math is difficult and that's just one of the truths that we just have to confront. On the other hand, maths is many different things. And so if we explain maths, when we present maths, we have to show that. And math is not only calculating with larger and larger numbers. but maths is the science of structures, it's the science of patterns, there's geometry, it connects to art, all of this is math. And when we teach math, we have to teach these connections and we have to show these connections, we have to connect to history, we have to connect to everything that is math.

DW-TV: All right Günther Ziegler, that was our third red in a row, what are the chances that the next one's going to be black?

28.12.2008 DW-TV PROJEKT ZUKUNFT gespraech 1

Günther Ziegler: Well, just a bit less than a half, but exactly the same probability as that it's red.

DW-TV: So it doesn't matter how many times you've had red before, the chances are the same?

Günther Ziegler: Exactly, if the roulette table is correct, then that doesn't influence the chances.

DW-TV: Now gambling always involves chance, but do mathematicians have a certain advantage when it comes to calculating the probabilities, or do they just trust their instincts when they're at the table?

Günther Ziegler: I mean, calculating the probabilities, mathematicians should have an advantage, but they don't change the probabilities. So at roulette, everybody has the same chances, and in the end, it's only the casino that wins.

DW-TV: Do you have a lucky number?

Günther Ziegler: 42.

DW-TV: Why?

Günther Ziegler: Well, it's the answer to the question about Life, the Universe and Everything.

DW-TV: Douglas Adams!

Günther Ziegler: That's what the Hitch Hikers Guide says, yes.

DW-TV: Well, here's a philosophical question for you: is math independent of observation or are we somehow just making up as we go along to explain the universe?

Günther Ziegler: No, I don't think we make it up. Eugene Wigner, Nobel prize winner in physics, talked in the 60s about the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the Natural Sciences. So math, mathematical equations like Einstein's gravitation theory, can really describe the universe, can describe nature. And so that shows that math is ingrained in the universe and in how nature works. We don't make it up.

DW-TV: What is the next Eldorado of math? Where's the discipline headed?

Günther Ziegler: I don't know. I think there's still the huge old miracles or mysteries like the prime number distribution, that we will still have to solve, but also there's things coming up like mathematical biology. I think mathematics is getting more and more effective in biology, and that's something that's really coming up as a development.

DW-TV: Do you think math will in the future become even more important to our daily lives than it is today?

Günther Ziegler: I think so. It's already very important now, even if we don't realise that. It's in all the hi tech that's around us and so on, and that will continue to grow.

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