Turing on the £50 note

The Bank of England has announced Alan Turing will be on the next £50 note.

Here are some videos we’ve made on the topic…

First an Objectivity video in which we speculated about who might be on the note.

On the Numberphile Podcast I spoke with Simon Singh about his role on the committee which made the decision. It’s the early part of the podcast.

Here’s are some Numberphile videos about the Enigma Machine from Alan Turing superfan James Grime.

Plus, while we’re speaking of the Bank of England, some gold in their vault

Moon Rocks

Four years ago I visited Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Original Mission Control

Original Mission Control

The cool people at NASA (and my mate Destin from Smarter Every Day) arranged the visit and we went to my equivalent of a Holy Place — the vault in which the Apollo moon rocks are stored.

Among the collection was a cabinet full of the Apollo 11 rocks from Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s famous first moonwalk.

Apollo 11 rock collection

Apollo 11 rock collection

We also saw The Genesis Rock - a famous sample collected during Apollo 15.

Genesis Rock on the Moon

Genesis Rock on the Moon

Checking out the Genesis Rock

Checking out the Genesis Rock

Destin did his own video too, of course.

For an Apollo fan like me this was an amazing experience.

My thanks to Destin, the lab staff at NASA, and our friend Gordon who also helped make this possible.

With Destin in Houston

With Destin in Houston

Cheeky pic of Moonwatch in Moon Rock room!

Cheeky pic of Moonwatch in Moon Rock room!

The Future of Objectivity

I’d like to update people about our Objectivity video series. And ask people to consider supporting it on Patreon.

Objectivity has been running since late 2014 and recently passed 200 episodes.

Keith, Brady, and James

Keith, Brady, and James

The videos are filmed and edited by James Hennessy. They’re some of the most fun projects I work on and we’re both very proud of the channel.

Who wouldn’t enjoy opening treasure chests and seeing the remains of a real dodo bird?

Since the start, Objectivity has mainly been filmed at The Royal Society.

The society has been incredibly supportive, both with access to its archive and funding.

Head librarian Keith Moore and his team go well beyond the call of duty.

Keith and Rupert Baker

Keith and Rupert Baker

This will not change. You will continue seeing Keith and treasures from the society collection.

However funding changes mean we can no longer produce fortnightly videos.

Instead, we’re looking at a reduction to one upload per month.

But ideally we would like to maintain a fortnightly schedule. This is why we’re appealing for help on Patreon.


Funding is what allows us to travel to more museums (in addition to the Royal Society) and pay for the cost of production.

White Gloves of Destiny at the AP Archive

White Gloves of Destiny at the AP Archive

Even as little as $1 a month makes a difference - it all adds up.

From my experience most patrons aren’t seeking big perks and rewards. However James and I are devising some nice ways to show appreciation to Patreon supporters - more news on that soon.

Finally - the best way anyone can support Objectivity is simple: keep watching

And maybe double click that notification bell so you’ll be sure see our new stuff.

Thank you to everyone who already watches and encourages the series. 

We love all your comments and feedback.


Messier's Missing Object

I just wanted to share some fascinating images and information which I received too late to include in a video.

The video was this one about Messier 102 on Deep Sky Videos.

Professor Mike Merrifield mentions that M102 was a late inclusion on Charles Messier’s famous list of objects - contributed by his colleague Pierre Méchain.

Its exact co-ordinates on the sky were not included, just a description of where it could be found.

As our video mentions, Messier later mentioned some co-ordinates, but it seems this has only added to the confusion for astronomers and historians.

I read more on the excellent SEDS database (an amazing Messier resource) and learned of Messier hand-wrote co-ordinates in a personal copy of the list.

This “personal copy” was tantalizing, so I contacted the people at SEDS and asked to see it.

Alas I did not receive a response in time - but eventually I did receive a response.

I was kindly supplied with multiple copies of the document in question - and it turns out Messier’s annotation was not very clear.

First here’s a standard photocopy, and I’ve highlighted Messier’s co-ordinates, which are on a facing page from the actual M102 entry.

Second, a deeper scan to show up more detail of the writing.

And finally a copy annotated by Dan Greely (who supplied the copy to SEDS in 1995) and Audouin Dolfuss. It’s fascinating to see these “astro detectives” at work.

My thanks to Hartmut Frommert from SEDS - the SEDS database is a treasure.

See his detailed article on the matter here.

Objectivity reaches 200 videos

I’ll take the opportunity to reflect on some of the project’s highlights and thank a few people.

Most importantly, huge credit to James Hennessy who shoots and edits the videos. He puts real care and craftsmanship into every episode.

Also Keith Moore, head librarian at the Royal Society - the undoubted “star” of the channel. He has given so much of his time and vast expertise. A great guy and true professional (despite the corny jokes).

I’m sometimes asked what my favourite video is - if forced to choose, I’d pick this one about treasure chests.

I also love the videos in which some of my friends come along as guest stars.

Among the pioneers were Destin from Smarter Every Day, Michael from Vsauce, and the gang from the Festival of the Spoken Nerd.

And of course I must mention The White Gloves of Destiny - those lucky dips into the card catalogue which result in randomly chosen objects and documents.

Here’s the full playlist - but the one featuring astronaut Don Pettit is perhaps the most memorable.

The videos have resulted in a number of “white glove pilgrimages” to the Royal Society.

There are plenty of other people who have helped along the way - but I must say a special thank you to Tracey Hughes and Rupert Baker at the Royal Society, and Jake Chudnow at YouTube who really got things off the ground.

Also the various other organisations which have hosted us, including Nasa, the Royal Astronomical Society, the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, the AP Archive, and even the Clifton Suspension Bridge!

I’ve not named everyone - that would take weeks - but hopefully you know who you are.

And finally - a huge thanks to our Patreon supporters. We’re incredibly grateful to everyone who takes the time to watch and interact with the videos - but our Patrons have been able to go a bit further a chip in a dollar or two and we really appreciate that.

Here’s a list of Patrons.

POSTSCRIPT: James tells me his favourite video is this one.

33 and the sum of three cubes

You may have seen that 33 can be expressed as the sum of three cubes.

They are (8866128975287528)^3 + (-8778405442862239)^3 + (-2736111468807040)^3 = 33

The solution was discovered by Andrew Booker from the University of Bristol.

Check out his paper.

If I may quote Andrew’s abstract (ahem!)…

Inspired by the Numberphile video “The uncracked problem with 33” by Tim Browning and Brady Haran, we investigate solutions to x^3+y^3+z^3=k for a few small values of k. We find the first known solution for k=33.

In all the excitement, some people mistakenly attributed the finding to Tim Browning (formerly of Bristol but now in Austria), who was helping publicise Andrew’s result. Tim had introduced many people to the problem via the Numberphile video.

A embarrassed Tim has been quick to remedy this, pointing out Dr Booker’s paper.

33 was previously the lowest number for which the sum of three cubes status was unknown.

There are lower numbers which can never be expressed as the sum of three cubes (4, 5, 13, 14, 22, 23, 31, 32 ) but these were known to be impossible because they can be represented as 9k+4 or 9k+5.

Until now, 33 was the lowest number which was unknown.

There is yet to be a formal proof that all numbers (outside the 9k+4 9k+5 category) can be expressed in this way.

For more on this, see the Numberphile video: The Uncracked Problem with 33 - Numberphile

PS: This is the second breakthrough inspired by the 33 video.

How many points do you need in the Premier League?

We’ve run a computer simulation of one million football (soccer) seasons.

The aim was to find out how many points you need to secure the most important positions in England’s Premier League.

  • How many points will win it?

  • How many points secure a coveted top four position (and entry to the Champions League)?

  • How many points avoid the bottom three, and dreaded relegation from the league?

The simulation was done by Professor Tony Padilla and Dr Adam Moss from the University of Nottingham’s Physics Department.

We did it for this Numberphile video, which outlines the results:

It’s technically possible to win the league with 38 points (all 380 games in a season are drawn, goal difference is tied but your team scores the most goals).

Likewise, it’s technically possible to be relegated despite scoring an impressive 63 points (the top 18 teams win 21 and lose 21 games each, but your goal difference is the worst).

But we thought a Monte Carlo simulation was a better way to explore more realistic possibilities.

For the million seasons we re-created, exact scores were generated for each individual game. That’s 380 million results.

Data from last season was used to weight the teams’ strengths rather than treating them all equally (more info on that here).

It is perhaps better to consider our simulation as a million “re-runs” of a season rather than predicting the future. Much can change in one million years!

But it still provides fascinating insights into how many points are required.

Here’s the number of points scored by the teams in each league position, across the million seasons:

The following is evident from the totals above:

A few other bits of trivia:

  • A perfect season (ie: 38 wins) was achieved 62 times out of the million simulations.

  • The league was also tied on 62 occasions - with points, goal difference and goals scored unable to decide the winner!

  • In one season the league winner scored just 50 goals (must have been a lot of 1-0 wins).

  • The most goals scored in a single season was 161.

  • There was one freakish instance of team scoring just 22 points in a season and NOT being relegated.

So which teams were winning and losing across the million seasons?

(You should be able to enlarge the image below by clicking)

  • No surprises that Manchester City won the league nearly 90% of the time.

  • Liverpool were next best, despite our work being based on last season in which Liverpool finished 4th. This is most likely due to Liverpool’s goal-scoring power.

  • No team outside the “Big Six” ever won the league, and Chelsea was the only “Big Six” team to be relegated (on just five occasions out of a million).

  • Southampton, despite finishing a lowly 17th last year, performed surprisingly well, even finishing second in one season.

Finally, a few single-game novelties from the 380 million simulated games. These seem unlikely, but remember they’re over the course of ONE MILLION SEASONS.

  • Most goals in a single game: Manchester City 17 Everton 5

  • Highest scoring draw: Everton 9 Liverpool 9

  • Biggest winning margin: Manchester City 20 Bournemouth 1

  • Highest score by a losing team: Everton 11 Chelsea 10

Thanks to Jeremy Nicholas for being stadium announcer in our main video.