06 May 2008

Something I learned from Jeopardy!

On tonight's Jeopardy, the last clue in a category about awards referred to the Fermat Prize. The clue was something like "The Fermat prize is given in this field for work involving 'variational principles'" (I don't have the exact wording). The question, of course, is "What is mathematics?"

Now, I didn't know there was such a prize. It turns out that it's awarded for work in any of the following three fields in which Fermat's work was important: "Statements of Variational Principles", "Foundations of Probability and Analytical Geometry", or "Number theory". From the past prize winners it looks like it's been awarded in all of those categories, although when I heard the clue it sounded like the prize was only awarded for work in the calculus of variations. (Sometime in the next couple days, the exact wording should be available at the Jeopardy! archive.)

Also, Alex Trebek pronounced the "t" in Fermat. No.

And the second-to-last clue in the same category asked for the subject in which the Turing Award is given. (I'd never heard of that award, either, but the answer is obvious if -- and probably only if -- you've heard of Turing.)


Anonymous said...

I hadn't heard of the Fermat Prize, but the Turing Award is said to be the Nobel Prize of computer science. We have the most recent Turing award winner comming to speak at my school in a few weeks.

CarlBrannen said...

Re the t in Fermat. Having spent time as a grad student in both math and physics, my observation is that mathematicians are slightly more, uh, "focused", about pronunciation.

Physicists would only correct the person they were talking to; mathematicians would break into other people's conversations in order to defend the purity of the language. It must have something to do with the sloppiness of the use of language in physics.

After I learned some Cantonese, I discovered that the mathematicians weren't doing a very good job of pronouncing the names of their Chinese colleagues! What a scandal!