Other 2008 prize winners were Dave Eggers (author) and Karen Armstrong (authority on comparative religions). Previous prizewinners have included Bill Clinton, E.O. Wilson and Bono.
TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design and started in 1984 as a conference bringing together these disciplines. Since then its scope has broadened and its activities centre on the annual conference in Monterey, California.
Every year, TED names three new recipients for the TED Prize. Each TED prize winner chooses a project which they announce at the annual conference - the next conference will be held between February 27 and March 1 2008 in Monterey, California.
Professor Turok was awarded the James Clerk Maxwell medal of the Institute of Physics for his contributions to theoretical physics in 1992 and has worked in a number of areas of mathematical and early-universe physics. He developed the theory of open inflation and with Stephen Hawking developed the Hawking-Turok
instanton solutions, describing the birth of an inflationary universe. Most recently, with Paul Steinhardt at Princeton, he has developed a cyclic model for the universe, in which the big bang is explained as a collision between two "brane-worlds" in M-theory. Steinhardt and Turok cowrote the popular science book Endless Universe. In 2003, Turok founded the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Muizenberg, a postgraduate educational center supporting the development of
mathematics and science across the African continent.
You can read more about Professor Turok's work in the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at Cambridge University in this Plus article Building Newton's nest.
We await what Professor Turok will wish for in his acceptance speech. In 2005 Bono called for action in Africa, in 2007 Bill Clinton talked about building a health care system in Rwanda and also in 2007 E.O. Wilson shared his vision for the Encyclopedia of Life.
A new postgraduate centre for maths and computer science has opened in the Nigerian capital of Abuja as part of an ambitious plan to find the "next Einstein" in Africa. The centre is providing advanced training to graduate students from across Africa in maths and related fields. It wants to attract the best young African scientists and nurture their talents as problem-solvers and teachers.
The poor maths skills of shoppers who fail to notice that they have been short-changed at the supermarket costs UK shoppers over £800 million a year.
Learndirect, an adult learning organisation, found that from a survey of 1000 people over half think that their basic maths skills let them down when shopping.
Many report that they struggle when converting currency on holiday and fail to take notice of how much items cost. A lack of basic English skills also contributes to this. This lack of basic skills means that £823 million is lost each year.
Learndirect operates a network of more than 800 online learning centres in England and Wales, providing access to a range of e-learning opportunities. Their survey suggests that:
one in five shoppers cannot convert local currency into pounds while on holiday;
more than a third admit to adding up on their fingers when they have no calculator;
one in five do not know the difference between words that sound the same but have different meanings, such as “there” and “their”;
two thirds rely completely on a spellchecker at work;
40% cannot calculate volume;
a third find converting fractions to decimals very difficult.
Learndirect also says that 1.4 million UK workers believe they have missed out on a promotion, or even lost a job, due to a lack of basic maths or English skills. This is why you should read Plus!
In October BBC2 screened a critically acclaimed documentary called "Beautiful Young Minds" which charted the fortunes of the six UK teenagers taking part in the 2006 International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) in Slovenia. (See our Plus article for more information.)
On the 8th of November, a record number of sixth formers will sit a test which could lead to them becoming next year's Beautiful Young Minds. Over 87,000 students from over 2,000 schools and colleges will sit the Senior Maths Challenge which could lead to them being selected to represent the UK in the 2008 IMO in Spain. With over 60,000 students sitting mathematics A-level last year, this
demonstrates a massive proportion of A-level candidates wishing to represent their country in mathematics.
Mary Wimbury, Director of the UK Mathematics Trust (which sets the Challenge and also selects the Olympiad team) explained that 8% more students had entered the competition this year. She said, "We are delighted with the increase in entries to the Senior Maths Challenge which reflects a growing take up of mathematics amongst sixth formers. The Challenge involves answering 25 questions of
increasing difficulty which aim to stimulate mathematical thinking beyond the school curriculum. We know that students find it both motivating and interesting."
The Senior Maths Challenge is sponsored by the Actuarial Profession. It presupposes a knowledge of mathematics to GCSE higher level and involves answering 25 questions in an hour and a half. Gold, silver and bronze certificates are awarded to 40% of participants nationally and the top 1,000 competitors will be invited to enter the British Mathematical Olympiad (BMO) Round 1 paper which takes
place on 30th November. The best 100 qualified to represent the UK will then be invited to sit BMO Round 2 in January 2008. They will then be whittled down to a squad of 20 and finally a team of six to represent the UK.
Negative numbers can confuse us all. Lottery company Camelot has withdrawn its Cool Cash scratchcard because players couldn't understand it and were confused by the negative temperatures on the card.
To win, users had to scratch away a window to reveal a temperature lower than the figure displayed on each card. As the game had a winter theme, the temperature was usually below freezing.
This is where the confusion comes in. Camelot received dozens of complaints from players who thought they had won, but were denied their prize money. They had scratched their windows to reveal numbers smaller in absolute value than the figure they needed to be lower than to win, but as both figures were negative, these numbers were actually bigger.
23-year-old Tina Farrell memorably said:
"On one of my cards it said I had to find temperatures lower than -8. The numbers I uncovered were -6 and -7 so I thought I had won, and so did the woman in the shop. But when she scanned the card the machine said I hadn't. I phoned Camelot and they fobbed me off with some story that -6 is higher - not lower - than -8 but I'm not having it. I think Camelot are giving people the wrong
impression - the card doesn't say to look for a colder or warmer temperature, it says to look for a higher or lower number. Six is a lower number than 8. Imagine how many people have been misled."
Almost three times as many UK adults (15.1m) have poor numeracy skills - the equivalent of a G or below at GCSE maths - compared to those with poor literacy skills, according to the government's Skills for Life survey.
Plus has teamed up with science journal giant Nature to bring maths to the Nature networking site. Nature Networks was set up quite recently to provide a global stage for science discussion, allowing scientists to meet, interact, comment on the latest news, debate
current topics or exchange information. Members can create groups for their own labs or organisations, or for their own subject area.
The mathematics forum is now brought to you by Plus. We're aiming to provide a platform for anyone who wants to discuss maths, whether it's actual maths, maths teaching, the portrayal of maths in the media, or good and bad maths content elsewhere on the internet.