Although we use zero on a daily basis, few of us ponder its significance. Zero is a vital part of our place-value system. Without it, 206 and 26 would look very similar indeed. Although this might seem obvious to us now, the theoretical leap required to develop a symbol represents nothing is very impressive – and neither the ancient Greeks nor the Romans had a representation of zero.
The renowned Indian mathematicians Brahmagupta was the author of the first text to treat zero as a number. It’s sometimes said that you cannot ponder the infinity until you pondered zero. In fact, this pondering of zero and the infinite is a big part of calculus – the nightmare of many university students. In essence, calculus is used in science, economics and engineering to look at the infinitely large and infinitely small. So, not to put too fine a point on it, the appearance of zero was a huge moment in the history of mathematics.