Mental Floss

Watch the Very Valuable Story of the Number Zero

Rudie Obias

In a new YouTube video from The Royal Institution, renowned mathematician Dr. Hannah Fry tells the fascinating story of zero, and how it evolved from nothing to something. According to Fry, zero serves two distinct roles: it's a placeholder for the absence of a number, and, as a number itself, is the middleman between one and negative one.

Dr. Fry explores the origins of the number system, going all the way back to the Babylonians, then tracing how the concept later migrated to China and the Middle East, where it influenced Arabic and Islamic cultures. When it made its way to Europe, however, zero was rejected in the Roman Empire because they already had their own counting and number system. It wasn’t until the 13th century that mathematicians like Fibonacci popularized the concept in the West.

Zero later would go on to be fundamental in the development of calculus and the modern binary system for computer science. Needless to say, it's played an important role in human history and offered countless contributions, not the least of which is the Schoolhouse Rock classic “My Hero, Zero.”

[h/t Gizmodo]

Images courtesy The Royal Institution/YouTube.