Is there a great mathematical example for a 12-year-old?

I’ve just been working with my 12-year-old daughter on Cantor’s diagonal argument, and countable and uncountable sets.

Why? Because the maths department at her school is outrageously good, and set her the task of researching a mathematician, and understanding some of the maths they did – the real thing.

So what else could we have done – thinking that we know our multiplication tables and fractions, but aren’t yet completely confident with equations which have letters for unknown numbers?

I did think of proving that there are infinitely many primes – we can follow an argument – other suggestions welcome.

And incidentally, tell your local high school to do this …

Answer

Six people at a dinner party is sufficient to ensure that there are either three mutual strangers or three mutual acquaintances. In fact, six is the smallest number that ensures this phenomenon. This is the diagonal Ramsey number $R(3,3)$, and the proof can be demonstrated with a couple pictures and just a dash of the pigeonhole principle. There are lots of directions she could go after understanding $R(3,3)$ (though most of it is not due to Ramsey).

Attribution
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Austin Mohr

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