A documentary and a biopic spotlight two disparate paths in math

There’s nobody approach to be a mathematical genius.

Shakuntala Devi had little formal training. Maryam Mirzakhani attended graduate faculty at Harvard College. Two movies chronicle how every lady grew to become well-known for her personal number of mathematical prowess.

The 2 girls’s expertise took vastly completely different varieties: Devi was identified for her blazingly quick psychological arithmetic, whereas Mirzakhani made strides within the arithmetic of surfaces, changing into the primary lady to win one of many highest honors bestowed on mathematicians, the Fields Medal.

The distinction between the 2 girls is echoed within the divergent types of the 2 movies: One is a Bollywood biopic heavy on emotional drama, and the opposite is a documentary replete with mathematical lingo.

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Born in India in 1929, Devi grew up in an impoverished household. As recounted within the Hindi-language movie Shakuntala Devi, out there with subtitles on Amazon Prime, she might make complicated psychological calculations at a rapid-fire tempo, whilst a small little one. Devi grew to become a performer, touring internationally and beautiful observers together with her feats, which outpaced computer systems within the 1970s and ’80s.

Whereas enjoyable, the film options bouts of tacky dialog that could be off-putting to some viewers. However others will benefit from the scenes that re-create a few of Devi’s most well-known achievements, comparable to taking the 23rd root of a 201-digit quantity in beneath a minute, and multiplying two 13-digit numbers in lower than 30 seconds. Cautious viewers would possibly be capable to glean just a few quantity information from the movie, however the film focuses on Devi’s fraught relationships — significantly together with her daughter — fairly than on the small print of psychological math algorithms.

Watch the trailer for Shakuntala Devi.Secrets and techniques of the Floor, out there on the net video platform Vimeo, recounts Mirzakhani’s life by way of interviews together with her associates, academics and colleagues. Though Mirzakhani most well-liked studying to arithmetic at first, her mathematical expertise quickly grew to become obvious. As a highschool pupil in Iran within the 1990s, she twice received gold medals within the Worldwide Mathematical Olympiad. However except for the youthful mathematical pursuits Devi and Mirzakhani shared, the 2 girls’s backgrounds couldn’t be extra completely different. Mirzakhani attended a highschool for presented ladies and studied arithmetic at Sharif College of Know-how in Tehran earlier than heading to Harvard and finally a professorship at Stanford College.

Mirzakhani’s work targeted on the geometry of surfaces, comparable to doughnuts with a number of holes. Her work has connections to different fields comparable to string concept, the mathematics-intensive department of physics that makes an attempt to explain the universe as composed of tiny, vibrating strings.

The movie contains fantastically clear descriptions and visualizations — for instance, traces winding round a doughnut form illustrate Mirzakhani’s examine of the variety of closed loops that may kind on numerous curved surfaces. These visible aids elucidate the difficult mathematical ideas underlying Mirzakhani’s work, for which she received the Fields Medal in 2014. Three years after receiving that honor, Mirzakhani died of most cancers at simply 40 years outdated. Within the movie, interviews with college students at her former highschool reveal what an inspirational determine she nonetheless is. “I feel she’s raised the bar for women, however beside that, she has opened up a brand new manner,” says pupil Dorsa Majdi.

Watch the trailer for Secrets and techniques of the Floor.Devi likewise impressed schoolchildren, selling math as enjoyable and unintimidating and authoring books about numbers. Watching the 2 movies, I couldn’t assist however marvel how Devi’s life might need been completely different had she been privileged with the kind of education Mirzakhani acquired. Within the biopic’s depiction, Devi appears to yearn for such a chance. She is portrayed staring longingly at youngsters attending a college at which she is paid to carry out, however which she will’t afford to attend.

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