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    Homework club: which mathematical term inspired the name Google?

    22 April 2020

    Welcome back to Homework Club. This is the week that most schools would have returned for their summer term, so our history fact is related to the introduction of British Summer Time. You’ll also see that our maths fact was inspired by one of last week’s biggest TV programmes. But as ever, these are just starting points for your mental exploration – use them any way you want. Also, find some facts of your own, based on what intrigues you. Above all, have fun!


    The word ‘parliament’ comes from the French ‘parler’, meaning ‘to talk’ – because that’s what politicians do there.

    The term dates from the period when England’s political and legal life was conducted in Anglo-Norman, a dialect of French. This happened because in 1066 William the Conqueror came over from Normandy and conquered England (hence the name). That’s why we also have terms like ‘attorney general’, ‘sergeant major’ and ‘heir apparent’. In each case the adjective comes after the noun, as it does in French, rather than before, as in English.


    A ‘googol’ is a one followed by a hundred zeroes. (You may have discovered this is you watched the ITV drama Quiz last week. It was Charles Ingram’s final question on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?)

    The number looks like this:

    10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

    How big is that? Well, we think that it’s more than the number of atoms in the known universe. (That’s estimated at 1 with a mere 78 zeroes after it.) So there is no physical quantity you could ever count that would need a googol. It was invented by the American mathematician Edward Kasner purely to get children interested in his subject. The name was made up by his 9 year-old nephew.

    The founders of Google copied the name (though they misspelled it), to symbolise the huge amount of information their search engine could process.


    The sundial in Petts Wood in Bromley is set – unlike almost every other sundial in Britain – to British Summer Time, rather than Greenwich Mean Time.

    That means it’s telling the correct time at the moment. With most sundials you’ll have to read the time then add an hour on. The reason for the one in Petts Wood is that this is where William Willett had the idea for putting the clocks forward. Riding his horse through the woods early one summer morning, he thought what a pity it was that no one else was up to enjoy the sunshine. In 1907 he published a pamphlet about the subject and begain campaigning. In 1916 the government put his plan into action.

    BONUS FACT: William Willett’s great-great grandson is Chris Martin of Coldplay.


    Professional shuttlecocks are still made of goose feathers.

    The shuttlecocks used in professional badminton are made using real goose feathers, which are always taken from the bird’s left wing. These make the badminton fly better (though no one is quite sure why).

    BONUS FACT: A shuttlecock can reach speeds of 200 mph when hit by a top player.


    The bikini is named after Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. The group of 23 islands was used by the US for nuclear tests after World War II. Four days after these tests started, in July 1946, the French designer Louis Réard launched his new two-piece swimsuit in Paris. He chose the name because he wanted his design to have the same ‘explosive’ effect as the tests.

    Science and Nature

    The greyhound is the second-fastest accelerating animal on the planet (after the cheetah) – it can go from 0 to 45 mph in slightly over a second.

    Look at a picture of a greyhound. Which features of its body make it good at accelerating so quickly?