Oxford

Sherlock Holmes nemesis helped by Oxford mathematicians

Jared Harris and Robert Downey Jr in Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows
Image caption Oxford is the scene of a tense encounter between Holmes and Moriarty

A pair of Oxford mathematicians have contributed to the latest Sherlock Holmes film by supplying mathematical formulae, codes and lecture notes for the detective's arch-enemy.

Alain Goriely and Derek Moulton were originally asked to invent some 19th Century equations to write on Professor Moriarty's blackboard.

The mathematicians from Oxford's Mathematical Institute went on to devise codes and ciphers for the film Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

Dr Goriely, a professor of mathematical modelling, said the work was "fun".

Their equations, transcribed by a calligrapher, are visible in the background in a scene in which Holmes confronts Moriarty in his office.

"On the board you have different aspects of his work, works on the binomial theorem, one on the dynamics of asteroids," said Dr Goriely.

"Hopefully they are all mathematically correct.

"You can see all his equations and also you should see hints of the code he uses to encode his message to his crew."

The mathematicians were careful to make their equations historically accurate in terms of annotations and symbols typical of the 19th Century period, when the film is set.

Image caption The film stars Robert Downey Jr as Sherlock Holmes

"We dug up some old handwritten manuscripts to check the symbols were correct too."

Dr Goriely said he and Dr Moulton had spent hours correcting mathematical mistakes made by the calligrapher who transcribed their notes to the blackboard.

The resulting equations carry some hidden messages.

"We decided to have a bit of fun in the process," said Dr Goriely.

"Our centre, which is called OCCAM, is written on the board in different places."

The Oxford Centre for Collaborative Applied Mathematics (OCCAM) has posted an image of the blackboard formulae on its website, and invited people to point out the first three examples of where OCCAM is hidden for the chance to win the Complete Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

Dr Goriely said there was great interest in celestial mechanics, a type of applied mathematics, at the end of the 19th Century.

Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts have speculated that the author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle based the fictional character Moriarty on the American astronomer Simon Newcomb and mathematicians such as Carl Friedrich Gauss and Srinivasa Ramanujan.

Gauss and Ramanujan were known for their papers on the dynamics of asteroids and generalisations of the binomial theorem.

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