Andrew Wiles and Fermat's Last Theorem

Read through the sheet, and take notes while you are watching the video The Proof - A Nova video about Princeton University Professor Andrew Wiles and Fermat's Last Theorem.

Andrew Wiles' Influences, Support and Barriers

What influences led him to become a mathematician / Why did he become a mathematician?

Did he have support from family and society?

What kind of barriers did he face while becoming a mathematician?

Gender, Racial or Multicultural/Ethnic Issues in Andrew Wiles' Experiences

What are the gender, racial, multicultural/ethnic, diversity (broadly defined) issues in his experiences? Be sure to also address whether he is married and has a family, and whether his spouse or partner is also a mathematician or scientist.

Andrew Wiles' Mathematical Style

How does he describe the process of doing mathematics and/or mathematical research?

How does he get the flashes of insight that he needs to do research?

How does his mathematical mind work? Does he have a photographic memory? Is he really good with numbers? Is he good at visualization?

Does he often collaborate (ie write papers with other mathematicians) or instead mostly work by himself?

How does he describe what mathematics is and/or where it comes from?

In The Heart of Mathematics: An inviation to effective thinking, authors Edward Burger and Michael Starbird explain that the lessons we learn from the process of mathematics research apply to a variety of decisions in life. Circle or check: which of the following strategies (adapted from their list by Dr. Sarah) apply to what we saw of Andrew Wiles in the video?

  • Don't be paralyzed by fear of the unknown. Take risks, try new things and live with a "just do it" attitude.
  • Make mistakes and fail but never give up. Instead, learn from your mistakes and use them to grow.
  • Life is a journey - not a destination. Someone could give you all THEIR answers, but it is your experiences and what you've learned during the process that really matters.
  • To really learn something new, you must experience it yourself via hands-on hard work. We don't learn deeply by watching someone else. You could watch many movies about baseball, but in order to really learn how to play well, you must actually pick up a bat yourself.
  • Seek the essential.
  • Take what is vague or confusing and seek clarity, focus and comprehension.
  • Break difficult problems up into easier ones.
  • Use what has already been done and adapt it for your own use.
  • Look for patterns and similarities.
  • Understand issues deeply, especially those ideas which seem simple.
  • Communicate your ideas effectively.
  • Keep an open mind.
  • Try to examine situations from diverse viewpoints.
  • Treat people and their ideas with respect.
  • Explore the consequences of new ideas.
  • The only stupid question is the unasked question.

    Additional Research After the Video

  • How many published works did we find for Andrew Wiles?
  • What is Andrew Wiles doing now?

    What Kind of Mathematician/Scientist are You?

    Think about the questions in the mathematical style section and come prepared to share an answer to one of them tomorrow:
  • How would you describe the process of doing mathematics or science to someone else?
  • How do you get the flashes of insight that you need to do science or math?
  • How does your mind work? Do you have a photographic memory? Are you really good with numbers? Are you good at visualization?
  • Do you prefer to collaborate or instead mostly work by yourself?
  • How would you describe what mathematics/science is and where it comes from?