Plus Blog

December 14, 2012

Here at Plus we were completely taken by surprise with just how exciting London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games were! Whether it was marvelling at the architecture, developing new strategies or equipment or keeping score, there was an application of maths providing those precious incremental advances that made all the difference. Here are our favourite moments from our Olympic and Paralympic calendars.


Gearing up for gold — Inspired by Sara Storey's phenomenal gold medal we calculate whether we, and our bikes, have what it takes to triumph in our newfound quest for speed!


Racing for new records — Wheelchair racing is one of the most exciting disciplines in the Paralympics. And it's not just a wheel-based equivalent of Olympic racing: John D. Barrow, mathematician, cosmologist and prolific popular science writer, has spotted an important difference.


No limits for Usain — Usain Bolt is determined to beat his record and run the 100m in 9.4 seconds. But what does mathematics have to say about this quest? Is there an ultimate limit which no runner can possibly surpass? If there is one, where would such a limit lie? For instance, is there a sub 9 second record in the offing?


Horses for courses — It's a great day for individual dressage today with the Grand Prix freestyle test taking place in Greenwich Park. It's amazing how those horses can perform elegant and complicated movements without getting their legs in a muddle. Coming to think of it, it's amazing that they can even go through their innate gaits without getting their legs in a muddle, given that there's four of them and they are very long. And what about animals who've got even more legs?


Rowing has its moments — The men's lightweight fours and the women's eights are going to compete for medals today, but are they sitting in the right place? Usually you expect to find rowers positioned in a symmetrical fashion, alternately right-left, right-left as you go from one end of the boat to the other. However, the regularity of the rower's positions hides a significant asymmetry that affects the way the boat will move through the water.

You can find lots more excellent material on the maths behind sports in the MMP Sportal!


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December 13, 2012

2013 has been declared as the year for the Mathematics of Planet Earth!

As well as encouraging research into fundamental questions about the Earth and how to meet the challenges it faces, there will also be many opportunities during 2013 for everyone to get involved. There's been a call for daily bloggers, inviting you to take part in a public conversation about Earth maths, whether you are an old hand at blogging or a newcomer to social media.

The MPE 2013 competition to design an exhibit about the mathematics of planet Earth is also underway, inviting you to design an interactive or physical exhibit, images or videos that explain how mathematics helps to understand our world and solve its problems. The winning entries, as well as winning cash prizes, will be exhibited in institutions around the world, including the UNESCO headquarters in Paris in the inaugural exhibition in March 2013. But hurry, you only have another week to submit your entry: the deadline is 20th December 2012.

Apart from that there are public lectures around the world, curriculum materials for teachers, exhibitions and more. Visit the MPE website for more information.

Mathematics of Planet Earth

December 12, 2012

Yesterday some of our heroes, Stephen Hawking and the team that found the Higgs boson at CERN, were awarded $3 million each by the Fundamental Physics Prize Foundation. Congratulations!

It's a prize for achievements in physics, but as we all know, physics is written in the language of maths. And this wasn't the only prize celebrating maths this year...


The Abel Prize 2012 — When did you first realise that you like numbers? Was it when you were first learning your times tables and saw all those number patterns and rhythms unfold in front of your eyes? If yes, then you'll be happy to hear that this year's Abel Prize, one of the highest honours in mathematics, has been awarded to a man whose most famous result answers a simple question related to those humble number sequences.


Prizes from the European Congress of Mathematics — At the beginning of July Plus went to the European Congress of Mathematics in Krakow! Around 1,000 mathematicians came together there for a week-long programme of talks and seminars. In this podcast we talked to Tom Sanders and Alessio Figalli, who were awarded prizes for their excellent contributions to maths, Arieh Iserles, a distinguished mathematician from the University of Cambridge, and a group of PhD students visiting their first big conference.


A Nobel Prize for quantum optics — The 2012 Nobel Prize for Physics has been awarded to Serge Haroche and David J. Wineland for ground-breaking work in quantum optics. By probing the world at the smallest scales they've shed light on some of the biggest mysteries of physics and paved the way for quantum computers and super accurate clocks.


How to make a marriage stable — How do you best allocate students to universities, doctors to hospitals, or kidneys to transplant patients? It's a tough problem that has earned this year's Memorial Prize in Economics.


String Theory, Duality and Art: how the Higgs boson and Turner Prize collide — On the face of it, an artist and a theoretical physicist might seem an unlikely pairing. But Turner Prize-winning sculptor Grenville Davey and string theorist David Berman's collaboration is producing beautiful, thought-provoking work inspired by the fundamental structure of the Universe. Julia Hawkins interviewed them to find out more about how the Higgs boson and T-duality are giving rise to art.


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December 11, 2012
Maths Jam map

First the UK! Next the world!

Our advent calendar is all about our favourite maths from 2012 and our good friend Alison Kiddle has nominated MathsJam as her favourite. Alison told us all about the recent MathsJam conference and the Cambridge pub meets – a winning combination of maths, puzzles, post-it notes, crochet and, of course, beer!

MathsJams have spread across the UK and around the world. You can find your local pubmeet from the MathsJam website and if there's not one near by, why not start one yourself! And in the meantime you can follow MathsJam on Twitter. Now, where's my crochet hook...


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December 10, 2012
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Sharpen your pencils and get writing!

We're happy to announce a competition for short popular maths articles, of 500 to 1500 words, open to Plus readers of all ages and backgrounds. The winning article (and possibly runners up) will be published in a forthcoming book provisionally named fifty, which will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications in 2014. All Entries will be judged by the IMA50 editorial team: Chris Budd, Alan Champneys, Marianne Freiberger, Paul Glendinning, Steve Humble, Rachel Thomas and Ahmer Wadee. Entries that don't make it into the book may be published on Plus.

Your article should appeal to any fan of popular science books, or just to the mathematically curious, and be aimed at an international audience. But at the same time the article should avoid the over-simplification that can frustrate those with mathematical training. Winning articles will be edited by the editorial team.

Roughly speaking the articles should fall into one of five categories:

  • The best maths of the last 50 years: including strange or interesting biography
  • Popular maths: sport, arts (prose, poetry and visual media), social science
  • Maths at work: medicine, finance, the environment, government
  • Quirky maths, humour, spoof and magic
  • Philosophy/psychology of maths, maths in education

Entries can be accepted in any reasonable file format. For those that are familiar with Latex, this is our preferred format.

Before writing your article download our style guidelines and the Latex template (if you are going to use Latex). You may also want to have a look at some writing tips.

Articles should be submitted by email to IMA50@maths.cam.ac.uk by the 15th January 2013 with "competition entry" as the email subject.

Any questions concerning the competition should be emailed to 50book@ima.org.uk.

Happy writing!

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December 10, 2012

This year we were lucky enough to see the Imaginary exhibition in Barcelona. It's an interactive mathematics exhibition that inspires the imagination with beautiful images. And what is more exciting it allows anyone to step into the world of maths! You can create and play with beautiful mathematical surfaces using the surfer software and explore the symmetry of tiling patterns with Ornamente.

We went along to the Imaginary Barcelona conference, which brought together the Imaginary team, from the Mathematical Research Institute Oberwolfach, and everyone from RSME who brought the exhibition to twelve cities throughout Spain.

You can read our postcard from Barcelona or enjoy our picture podcast on the right.


The photos in this podcast are by Rachel Thomas for Plus and by Sebastian Xambo for Imaginary and the images of mathematical surfaces are by Herwig Hauser and Rachel Thomas using Surfer. For more information on Imaginary visit http://www.imaginary.org and you can read more on maths and art on Plus.


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