Lucky moment for me this morning when I happened to be looking at my screen just as Steven Strogatz posted the links to a few Breakthrough Prize lectures:

Michael Harris’s article in Slate a few weeks ago drew my attention to the Breakthrough prize in math:

Michael Harris writes about the Breakthrough Prizes in math

In particular, this statement from the article got me thinking:

“Tao—the only math laureate with any social media presence (29,000-plus followers on Google Plus)—was a guest on The Colbert Report a few days after the ceremony. He is articulate, attractive, and the only one of the five who has done work that can be made accessible to Colbert’s audience in a six-minute segment. But Colbert framed Tao as a genius (which he assuredly is), not as someone who can get them jumping up and down in the aisles.”

Though I’m sure that Harris is correct, it seemed to be quite a shame that the work of these mathematicians wasn’t really accessible to the general public. One of the reasons that I thought this was a shame is selfish – I want to learn from these great mathematicians. I want other people to be able to learn from them, too.

Terry’s Tao’s public lecture at the Museum of Math is a great example of how you can learn from these world class mathematicians. That lecture is filled with beautiful math that the general public (and kids especially) can understand. I’ve done three projects with my kids already from that lecture:

Part 1 of using Terry Tao’s MoMath lecture to talk about math with kids – the Moon and the Earth

Part 2 of using Terry Tao’s MoMath lecture to talk about math with kids – Clocks and Mars

Part 3 of using Terry Tao’s MoMath lecture to talk about math with kids

I’d love to see more public lectures like Terry Tao’s lecture at MoMath and use them to show kids more about what mathematicians do. Well . . . what I didn’t know until I saw Strogatz’s post this morning was that each of the Breakthrough Prize winners gave a public lecture as part of the prize. Yes!!

I haven’t had time to view all of them, but the lectures by Terry Tao and Jacob Lurie are absolutely tremendous. I’m not sure that they prove Harris wrong, since they aren’t really going into detail about their work, but . . . . If you want to get a better understanding of what math is, watch these lectures. If you want to help other people, including kids, understand what mathematicians do, these lectures are a great starting point:

Jacob Lurie’s Breakthrough Prize talk:

Terry Tao’s Breakthrough Prize talk:

For good measure, here are the other talks. I have not viewed these ones yet, but I am excited to watch them, too. It is so great to see lectures like these ones online. I’m really happy that the Breakthrough Prizes are helping to connect these amazing research mathematicians to the general public. That connection has to be a great step forward for math.

The remaining three lectures are below:

Maxim Kontsevich’s Breakthrough Prize talk:

Richard Taylor’s Breakthrough Prize talk:

Simon Donaldson’s Breakthrough Prize talk: