The Tragic History of Mathematicians

The second puzzle in the new feature from Tom Rocks Maths – check out the question below and send your answers to me @tomrocksmaths on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or via the contact form on my website. The answer to the first puzzle can be found here.

Below are portraits of four famous mathematicians from history that have all died in tragic circumstances. Your task is to match up the mathematician with one of the following causes of death:

  • Shot in a duel
  • Pushed overboard from a ship
  • Suicide
  • Lost his mind

Bonus points for explaining the work of any of the mathematicians shown. Good luck!

WARNING: answer below image so scroll slowly to avoid revealing it accidentally.



a. Hippasus – Pushed overboard from a ship for his discovery and subsequent proof that the square root of 2 is an irrational number (cannot be written as a fraction).

b. Cantor – Lost his mind after discovering that there are more one type of infinity. For example the positive integers (whole numbers) are countably infinite, whilst the real numbers are uncountably infinite.

c. Boltzmann – Suicide. He is most famous for the development of statistical mechanics which explains how the properties of atoms determine the physical properties of matter.

d. Galois – Shot in a duel after being involved in a ‘love triangle’. Fortunately he wrote down all of his work/thoughts the night before which now forms the basis of Galois theory.

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