Expatica news

Ancient maths riddle remains ‘unsolvable’

13 September 2004

AMSTERDAM — Mathematicians have dismissed claims by Dutch student Geert-Jan Uytdewilligen that he has discovered a formula to give the solution to polynomial equations of degree five or higher.

Uytdewilligen claimed last week that he had found the general formula that could be used to solve the roots of any polynomial equation. It was reported at the time that mathematicians and scientists had been searching for the equation since the time of the ancient Egyptians.

But Amsterdam University professor Tom Koornwinder has dismissed the idea that the world was waiting for such a solution: “It was already proven in the 19th century that this formula cannot exist”.

Uytdewilligen believed he had found the solution because his formula did not end in a dead end, but Hendrik Lenstra from the Thomas Stieltjes Institute also told newspaper Algemeen Dagblad that such a formula had already been discovered.

He said Uytdewilligen’s formula required endless calculating without coming to a solution and that academics knew of such a formula long ago and had thus labelled the problem as unsolvable.

Both academics have studied Uytdewilligen’s formula and Koornwinder admitted it was not “nonsense” and thus deserved some merit, but also said it was not the formula that had been searched for. “The claim doesn’t make sense,” the professor said, adding that it will not be remembered as a breakthrough.

But Lenstra was even harder: “That he named this a discovery! This boy is unfortunately born a century too late to be the first. Who knows, maybe he is a still a 100 years in front, but then his teachers must first put him on the right path”.

“Such a student who does new things is incredibly fun, but someone should have told him that we have known since the 19 century that a solution did not exist. Maybe he should go to a university, he can be held up-to-date there,” Lenstra said.

The Fontys Hogeschool — where Uytdewilligen is a fourth-year applied physics student — is a HBO higher education institute, but is not classified as a university in the Dutch education system. Both forms offer Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, but only universities offer doctoral degrees.

In response to the saga, Fontys Hogeschool mathematics lecturer Jeroen van de Wiel admitted knowing all along that there was no solution to the general polynomial of degrees five and higher and said it was mystery how the school’s PR department could have sent out a press release saying that a solution had been found.

Despite the controversy though, Lenstra said Uytdewilligen should be encouraged to continue with mathematics. “We have too few people. We need to keep everyone who can add and subtract,” he said.

Uytdewilligen has failed to reply to Expatica emails.

[Copyright Expatica News 2004]

Subject: Dutch news