Using Jacob Lurie’s Breakthrough Prize lecture to inspire kids

I was a little sad that the Breakthrough Prize switched the idea behind the lectures from prize winners from (what I understood to be) a public lecture to one pitched at first year graduate students.

Granted, it can be difficult in math to deliver public lectures about your work, but Jacob Lurie’s Breakthrough Prize lecture after winning the 2014 Breakthrough Prize is a public lecture masterpiece:

To show how lectures like Lurie’s can inspire kids, this morning I watched the first 10 to 15 minutes of his lecture with my kids and then asked them about what they thought. It led to a really fun conversation.

To start – my younger son (who is in 4th grade) was interested in Lurie’s discussion of modular arithmetic, and we used some clock arithmetic to work through a few examples:

After that my older son said that the ideas about the ever-growing sets of different kinds of numbers was something he thought was interesting:

After hearing about the ideas that they found interesting, I asked each of the boys to come up with a question about the integers that they thought would be interesting. My younger son asked a question about i instead – his question led to a super fun talk about properties of i. You never know what is going to grab a kid’s attention!

Finally, I asked my older son to come up with a question about integers, and he wondered if we’d be able to prove that \sqrt{3} was irrational!

Oh yes!! Another great conversation!

So, I really hope the Breakthrough Prize folks go back to more of a “public lecture” format than a “first year graduate student” format. The public lectures can be such a powerful tool for inspiring kids.