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Who’s World’s First Algebraist?

Al-Khawarizmi worked as a scholar in the governmental scientific institute “The House of Wisdom”. That was in Baghdad, the then capital city of the Abbasid Caliphate.

From fast cars and aeroplanes to computer encryption – mathematics underpins so much of modern life.

In this episode, Jim Al-Khalili uncovers how the Islamic World’s mathematicians have mastered science and laid the foundations of algebra. In fact, this era spans over time between the 9th and 14th centuries.

He looks at the modern mathematics behind flight, and behind the record-breaking fastest car in the world, tracing the route back from these achievements to the legacy of the Persian mathematician Al-Khwarizmi.

We also discover the role that the Islamic world played in giving us the modern numeral system that we take for granted in everyday life.

Additionally, in the Sulemaniye Library in Istanbul, Jim uncovers a rare text by Al Kindi – perhaps the world’s earliest mathematical code breaker.

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New Science

Algebra is the study of mathematical symbols and the rules for manipulating these symbols. It’s a unifying thread of almost all of mathematics.

As such, it includes everything from elementary equation solving to the study of abstractions such as groups, rings, and fields.

The word algebra comes from the Arabic ‘al-jabr’. It means ‘the reunion of broken parts. Actually, this was the title of the book Ilm al-jabr wa’l-muḳābala of Al-Khwarizmi.

The word entered the English language during the 15th century, from either Spanish, Italian, or Medieval Latin. It originally referred to the surgical procedure of setting broken or dislocated bones.