Friday, December 08, 2006
'Nullity', computers' new favourite word
BBC reports [edited]
Schoolchildren in Caversham have become the first in the country to learn about a new number - 'nullity' - which solves maths problems neither Newton nor Pythagoras could conquer.
Dr James Anderson, from the University of Reading's computer science department, says his new theorem solves an extremely important problem - the problem of nothing.
"Imagine you're landing an aeroplane on 'automatic pilot" he suggests. "If it divides by zero, the computer simply stops working. If your heart pacemaker divides by zero, you're in big trouble."
Computers cannot divide by zero. Try it on your calculator and you'll get an error message. But Dr Anderson has come up with a theory that proposes a new number - 'nullity' - which sits outside the conventional number line (stretching from negative infinity, through zero, to positive infinity).
The theory of nullity is set to make all kinds of sums possible that, previously, scientists and computers couldn't work around.