Culture > Television


Television | New crime show relies on mathematics to solve mysteries

Issue: "Curt Schilling: Never hide," March 19, 2005

A new television crime show, oddly enough, may help reverse the impression that math is boring and unconnected to the real world, restoring instead its wonder. Numb3rs (CBS, Fridays, 10:00 p.m. ET) is about an FBI agent (Rob Morrow) who draws on the expertise of his brother (David Krumholtz), a young math professor, who uses mathematics to solve crimes.

He plots out the location of murders on a map, then develops an equation that zeroes in on the point of origin, where the serial killer probably lives (based on an actual computer program used by police). He calculates momentum and distance to determine if a man who falls off a building committed suicide (by jumping) or was murdered (by being dropped). Structural instabilities in a building, attempts to break an encryption code, and other engineering puzzles make for fascinating mysteries.

The mathematician is refreshingly un-nerdlike, though sometimes the butt of jokes. And when he starts calculating, viewers see animated diagrams that make it all comprehensible.

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Mathematics is a matter of complex mental gymnastics, but then, lo and behold, it tallies perfectly with the objective universe. Nature embodies mathematical order. And mathematics is how we can understand nature and make it do our bidding, underlying all of our science, engineering, and technology.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith


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