Tuesday, December 11, 2012


A HISTORY OF ZERO - by Justin Grimm (one of Amy's algebra students)

Where did the number zero begin? Is it even a number? Does it have a value as all other numbers? How was math before the number zero? This report will be a brief summary on the origin of the number zero, why it was needed, who and how it eventually came into world wide use.

Originally The Sumerians were the first to develop a counting system to keep an account of their stocks of goods and cattle. Around 2500 BC The Sumerian system was handed down to the Akkadians and then to the Babylonians in 2000 BC. Although the number zero was still not conceived, it was the Babylonians who originally saw the need for a marking to be a place holder which is the same concept used as zero today.

Although one may think that the Greek mathematicians as intellectual as they were founded the number zero, there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that the Greeks even had any form of marking for a place holder in there system of mathematics. It may come as a surprise however that It was the Indians who began to understand zero both as a symbol and as an idea.

Around 650 AD an Indian man by the name of Brahmagupta was the first to formalize arithmetic operations using zero. He used a method by marking dots underneath numbers to indicate a zero. These dots were referred to as 'sunya', which means empty, or 'kha', which means place. Brahmagupta wrote standard rules for reaching zero through addition and subtraction as well as the results of operations with zero. However there was an error in these rules by division.

Of course once Brahmagupta founded zero it did not travel very quickly. Albeit they just conceived zero, however the Internet was a long ways off from being up and running. By 773 AD Brahmagupta's text reached Baghdad. In the ninth century a man named Mohammed ibn-Musa al-Khowarizmi developed zero and was the first to work on equations equaling zero, as well as developing what are known today as algorithms. Zero finally took its recent form as we know it today in 879. Although it would be used as a slightly smaller marking and more oval it would mark the first time 0 was written in mathematics.

Traveling further finally reaching Europe in the mid twelfth century due to the invasion of Spain at the hands of the Moors, translations of Al-Khowarizmi's work had weaved their way to England.
In Italy a mathematician, Fibonacci published his book "Abacus Book" in 1202. This has significance with the merchants and German bankers who found it much easier and more successful to keep account of their books using this new system. Although outlawed by governments due to lack of trust using this system drives by Arabic numerals, the merchants and bankers continued to use this system by utilizing encryption techniques. Thus the word cipher was born. 

The next great mathematician to use zero was Rene Descartes, the founder of the Cartesian coordinate system. 

Going back to Brahmagupta's standard law for the use of zero Adding, subtracting, and multiplying by zero are relatively simple operations. However division by zero has confused even great minds. It was not until the 1600's when Newton and Leibniz were able to crack this issue. They were able to solve this problem of zero and calculus was born. Not only do we have these men to thank for solving the zero issue, calculus bore birth to physics, engineering, and many aspects of economics.

In conclusion the number zero has had a long history of boggling minds from its inception until even this day. To some the number is still inconceivable, to others it may not be considered a true number because it has no value. Although it may have no numbered value it's value is evident in our lives today. This world may be split because of a language barrier, however mathematics and especially the number zero is a globally understood language that has no human barrier. Throughout the history of math one thing holds true and strong. Our need for zero will not be a diminishing one.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting. I didn't realize it was so recent a development.