You’ve seen the quadratic formula but did you know there is no quintic formula for solving degree 5 polynomials? Join me in learning why this classical result is true at the Cartesian Cafe with the one and only Grant Sanderson:

Grant Sanderson is a mathematician who is the author of the YouTube channel “3Blue1Brown”, viewed by millions for its beautiful blend of visual animation and mathematical pedagogy. His channel covers a wide range of mathematical topics, which to name a few include calculus, quaternions, epidemic modeling, and artificial neural networks. Grant received his bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Stanford University and has worked with a variety of mathematics educators and outlets, including Khan Academy, The Art of Problem Solving, MIT OpenCourseWare, Numberphile, and Quanta Magazine.

In this episode, we discuss the famous unsolvability of quintic polynomials: there exists no formula, consisting only of finitely many arithmetic operations and radicals, for expressing the roots of a general fifth degree polynomial in terms of the polynomial’s coefficients. The standard proof that is taught in abstract algebra courses uses the machinery of Galois theory. Instead of following that route, Grant and I proceed in barebones style along (somewhat) historical lines by first solving quadratics, cubics, and quartics. Along the way, we present the insights obtained by Lagrange that motivate a very natural combinatorial question, which contains the germs of modern group theory and Galois theory and whose answer suggests that the quintic is unsolvable (later confirmed through the work of Abel and Galois). We end with some informal discussions about Abel’s proof and the topological proof due to Vladimir Arnold.