An animated history of the number zero (VIDEO).

The Full, Fascinating History of the Number Zero (Video)

The Full, Fascinating History of the Number Zero (Video)

Slate in motion.
June 28 2016 3:58 PM

Zero Is Hardly Nothing

An animated history of the number zero.

Geeks and Zero Love
Arguably one of the two most important digits.

The Royal Institution

Who knew an animated video about nothing, like this one from the Royal Institution, could be so much fun, Seinfeld notwithstanding? Actually, nothing is just what some of us thought zero was—it turns out it’s a lot more.

Zero’s a relatively recent arrival in the number club. There wasn’t much use for it when mathematics began as a rudimentary system of counting objects. It was during the 7th century in India that zero was finally created by Brahmagupta. Prior to that, Indian mathematicians had used a small dot to show the absence of a digit within a larger number. When the Indian numerical system spread east, and then west, into the Arabian peninsula, zero traveled along.


And there it stopped, as Europeans opposed the Hindu/Arabic number system—being committed already to Roman numerals. Eventually, though, math superstars like Fibonacci endorsed the system, and it was finally adopted in western culture.

As math evolved, zero became fundamental to calculus, which allowed mathematicians to divide and divide, approaching close to—but never quite reaching—zero itself.

And now, of course, all of our computer-based devices use binary numbers: 0 and 1, making zero arguably one of the two most important numbers in the world today.

The animated video above tells the full, fascinating story of the number that represents, quite literally, nothing and everything.