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Primed to succeed

WE MUST wish Maths Year 2000 a success. It is vital that mathematics takes its proper place within our culture, and not only because it is the key to modern technology and science.

It is also a key form of knowledge, and we cannot regard a citizen as educated who does not have some insight into its beauty and universality.

Popularising mathematics is a challenge. Too often we have confused accessibility with dumbing down. The new national curriculum in mathematics gives hope that this is at last being reversed. It was unfortunate therefore that the director of Maths Year 2000 included a howler in his artcle (TES, December 24). Euclid did not show how to construct a new prime number from a given collection of prime numbers. What he did show is how this would be possible if the number of primes were finite. The new prime would not be a member of this finite set, leading to a contradiction.

Thus there cannot be a finite number of primes. The proof is subtle, but not hard or long.

The challenge this year to those of us whose trade is mathematics is this: can we convey to the nation the beauty of mathematics as well as its utility?

Robert Barbour

10 Valley View

Bewdley, Worcestshire

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