Beginning with simple calculations, such as the number of sheep in a herd, the field of mathematics has developed over time according to people's needs and interests. In the course of history, mathematics has been used not only to conduct business but also to survey land and construct buildings, to analyze information and to predict phenomena. Explore the history of mathematics and learn about the contributions of both individuals and cultures to its development through these direct links on the Times Launch Point Web site: http://www.latimes.com/launchpoint

Here are the best sites for getting your schoolwork done or for just having fun.

Level 1

Online Math Applications: History: This illustrated guide to math history introduces you to important mathematical concepts as well as innovative figures, such as Carl Gauss, who as a schoolboy could add up all the numbers from 1 to 100 in less than 10 seconds.

http://tqjunior.thinkquest.org/4116/History/history.htm

Ask Dr. Math (Elementary): Math History: Why does the Roman numeral D stand for 500? What is the Egyptian method of multiplication? Find out the answers to these and many other math history questions at this informative site.

http://forum.swarthmore.edu/dr.math/tocs/history.elem.html

The Abacus: The Art of Calculating With Beads: The abacus is a device used for counting that evolved from the Babylonian counting boards of 300 BC. Learn how the abacus is still used today in Asia and how an abacus actually beat an electric calculator in a contest.

http://www.ee.ryerson.ca:8080/~elf/abacus/index.html

Level 2

The History of Math Page: Learn about the lives and accomplishments of great mathematical whizzes such as the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, a German mathematician who invented the binary system of numbers consisting of 1's and 0's that makes computers possible.

http://www.geocities.com/ResearchTriangle/Thinktank/6991/history.html

Encarta: Mathematics: Trace the development of mathematical concepts through various cultures over time. Find out how geometric patterns decorated prehistoric pottery, and discover why the earliest counting systems were most likely based on fingers and hands.

http://encarta.msn.com/find/Concise.asp?z=1&pg=2&ti=761578291

Mathematicians of the African Diaspora: Learn how the ancient Egyptian zero was important in the construction of the pyramids, and read about such great African American mathematicians as Thomas Fuller, Benjamin Banneker and Charles Reason through this collection of historical articles, biographies and resources.

http://www.math.buffalo.edu/mad/mad0.html

Level 3

The MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive: How do ancient Babylonian mathematics compare with those of the ancient Egyptians and the Greeks? Read about the history of zero, the mathematical contributions of various cultures and the achievements of mathematicians from 1600 BC to the present day.

http://www-history.mcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/

Biographies of Women Mathematicians: Read about the important contributions of such women as Hypatia, Ada Byron and Grace Hopper to the field of mathematics through this collection of biographies and photos.

http://www.agnesscott.edu/lriddle/women/women.htm

Famous Problems in the History of Mathematics: Historians believe that as early as 2000 BC, people had discovered that the ratio of circumference to diameter is the same for all circles. Discover how solving mathematical problems over the years has led to the development of new areas of mathematics, such as how solving a gambling problem led to the development of rules of probability.

http://forum.swarthmore.edu/~isaac/mathhist.html

Launch Point is produced by the UC Irvine department of education, which reviews each site for appropriateness and quality. Even so, parents should supervise their children's use of the Internet. This column was designed by Tai Kaufmann, Laura N. Vasquez and Anna Manring.

EXPLORER'S QUEST

The answer to this Internet quiz can be found in the sites at right.

How many seconds were in an ancient Babylonian hour?

Clue: See The MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive

Find What You Need to Know: Have a project on California history? Need help doing a math problem? Launch Point covers more than 150 topics for getting your schoolwork done. Go to http://www.latimes.com/launchpoint/ for the full list of subjects and direct links to the best Internet sites.

Answer to last week's Quest: A Revolutionary War soldier would read letters written in invisible ink by holding them over the flame of a candle or by using a chemical solution.