The birthday of Pierre de Fermat, the 17th century French lawyer famous for the so-called 'Fermat's Last Theorem' mathematical puzzle, is celebrated in a Google Doodle today.
The Doodle shows a blackboard with algebraic symbols on it, with the word "Google" faintly visible as though rubbed out earlier. The symbols read: xn + yn ≠ zn. If you hover your mouse over the Doodle, the pop-up text reads "I have discovered a truly marvelous proof of this theorem, which this doodle is too small to contain."
Pierre de Fermat, was born on 17 August 1601, 410 years ago. A lawyer at the Parlement of Toulouse and a gifted amateur mathematician, he made breakthroughs in several fields of calculus, probability, geometry and number theory, but is best known for a brief note he made in the margin of a book of arithmetic.
His enigmatic aside set the scene for perhaps the greatest mathematical mystery of all time.
It had been known for centuries that it is possible to find numbers a, b and c in which: a2+ b2 = c2. That is, some "square" numbers - the product of a number multiplied by itself - added to certain other squares, created a third square. Examples of these so-called "Pythagorean triples" include 32+ 42 = 52, or 9+16 =25. Another example is 52+ 122 = 132.
However, it had been the subject of argument whether that held true for any other power: or, as mathematicians would put it, whether there was any whole number n for which an + bn = cn. Many believed it was not, but no-one could prove it mathematically.