Everything we buy, from books to baked beans, has a product code printed on it. More sophisticated check-digit codes exist on official documents, bank notes and air tickets. What are they for and what do they mean?
Professor John D Barrow takes a look at the mathematical structure of these codes and explains their purposes. And in this age of boundless surveillance, are there enough numbers for each of us to have a serial number of our own?
John D. Barrow
John D. Barrow FRS, former Gresham Professor of Geometry, has been Professor of Mathematical Sciences at the University of Cambridge since 1999. He is carrying out research in mathematical physics, with special interest in cosmology, gravitation, particle physics and associated applied mathematics.
Since its inception in 1999 John Barrow has been the director of the Millennium Mathematics Project which aims to improve the understanding and appreciation of mathematics and its applications amongst young people and the general public. This has born fruit with the Project's receiving the Queen's Anniversary Prize for Educational Achievement in 2005. Further to this, he has received many awards and prizes for his own research in mathematics and astronomy, including the Locker Prize for Astronomy and the 2006 Templeton Prize.
He is the author of over 420 articles and 19 books, translated in 28 languages, exploring the wider historical, philosophical and cultural ramifications of developments in mathematics, physics and astronomy. He has also delivered lectures in a perhaps unique combination of locations including 10 Downing Street, Windsor Castle, the Vatican Palace and the Venice Film festival. He is also the author of the (Italian language) Infinities, which won the Italian Premi Ubu award for the best play in Italian theatre in 2002.
The appointment of Professor Barrow to the Geometry chair at Gresham College repeats a feat only previous achieved in 1652 by the founding member of the Royal Society, Lawrence Rooke. Having been a highly popular Astronomy professor between 2003 and 2007, Professor Barrow is only the second professor in Gresham College's four-century history to have been appointed to two separate chairs.