Science in a Golden Age

Al-Khwarizmi: The Father of Algebra

We explore the origins of algebra and mathematics that underpin the science of flight and the transport of the future.

None of the great achievements of modern science would be possible without the mathematisation of science and the development of algebra.

Muhammad al-Khwarizmi, the “father of algebra”
•Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi was a 9th-century Muslim mathematician and astronomer.
•He is known as the “father of algebra”, a word derived from the title of his book, Kitab al-Jabr.
•His pioneering work offered practical answers for land distribution, rules on inheritance and distributing salaries.
•He also developed the concept of the algorithm in mathematics, which is why some have called him the “grandfather of computer science”.
•Khwarizmi was one of the most famous scholars of Bayt al-Hikma (The House of Wisdom), Baghdad’s intellectual powerhouse.
•The House of Wisdom was a centre for the study of sciences, including mathematics, astronomy, medicine, chemistry, geography and astrology.

The word algebra stems from the Arabic word al-jabr, which has its roots in the title of a 9th century manuscript written by the mathematician Al-Khwarizmi.

Al-Khwarizmi’s Kitab al-mukhtasar fi hisab al-jabr wal-muqabala (The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing) was a pioneering piece of work – offering practical answers for land distribution, rules on inheritance and distributing salaries.

In this episode of Science in a Golden Agetheoretical physicist, Jim al-Khalili explores Al-Khwarizmi’s 9th century treatise that also underpins the science of flight and the engineering behind the fastest car in the world.

Originally Persian, Al-Khwarizmi spent his academic life in the city of Baghdad from where the Abbasid caliphs ruled and established the Bayt al-Hikma (The House of Wisdom), a renowned centre of learning.

With Professor Ramazan Sesen and Dr Peter Starr, Jim discusses the origins of the House of Wisdom and how the translation of Greek, Persian and other texts was central to the progressive scientific and mathematical revolution that originated in Baghdad.

And, in the Sulemaniye Library in Istanbul, Jim uncovers a rare text by Al-Kindi, a philosopher, polymath, and musician – and perhaps the world’s earliest mathematical code breaker.

Thank this 9th century scientist the next time you fly