Plus Blog

December 14, 2010

MathsJam is a monthly opportunity for like-minded self-confessed maths enthusiasts to get together in a pub and share stuff they like. Puzzles, games, problems, or just anything they think is cool or interesting.

Peter Rowlett

Peter Rowlett

Regular events take place in London and Manchester and now also in Nottingham. Events provisionally take place on the second to last Tuesday of every month.

Nottingham organiser and Plus friend Peter Rowlett hopes that those involved with teaching mathematics will find ideas and inspiration to enrich teaching and encourage mathematical thinking, that students will find they develop techniques to approach problem solving in their studies, and that everyone will find it a fun, stimulating event to connect with maths as fun!

If you want to find out when and where MathsJam events are taking place in Nottingham City Centre please send an email to nottingham@mathsjam.com.

December 13, 2010

Monday mornings can be messy and horrible, so to purify your mind we give you some pure mathematical favourites:

The prime number lottery
Marcus du Sautoy begins a two part exploration of the greatest unsolved problem of mathematics: the Riemann Hypothesis. In the first part, we find out how the German mathematician Gauss, aged only 15, discovered the dice that Nature used to chose the primes.

And here is the second part of the series, The music of the primes.


An enormous theorem: the classification of finite simple groups
Enormous is the right word: this theorem's proof spans over 10,000 pages in 500 journal articles and no-one today understands all its details. So what does the theorem say? Here is a short and sweet introduction.

The trouble with five
Squares do it, triangles do it, even hexagons do it — but pentagons don't. They just won't fit together to tile a flat surface. So are there any tilings based on fiveness? This article takes us through the five-fold tiling problem and uncovers some interesting designs in the process.


Gödel and the limits of logic
When Kurt Gödel published his incompleteness theorem in 1931, the mathematical community was stunned: using maths he had proved that there are limits to what maths can prove. This put an end to the hope that all of maths could one day be unified in one elegant theory and had very real implications for computer science. This article describes Gödel's brilliant work and troubled life.

Omega and why maths has no TOEs
Gregory Chaitin explains why he thinks that Gödel's incompleteness theorem is only the tip of the iceberg, and why mathematics is far too complex ever to be described by a single theory.



Cantor and Cohen: Infinite investigators Part I and Part II
What's the nature of infinity? Are all infinities the same? And what happens if you've got infinitely many infinities? These two articles explore how these questions brought triumph to one man and ruin to another, venture to the limits of mathematics and find that, with infinity, you're spoilt for choice.

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December 12, 2010

Got your popcorn? Picked a good seat? Are you sitting comfortably? Then let the credits roll...

Maths goes to the movies
We have all marvelled at the incredibly life-like computer generated images in the movies. What most of us don't realise is that the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park and the wonders of Lord of the Rings — particularly the star turn of Gollum — would not have been possible without mathematics.

It's all in the detail
The computer animation used in movies and games is now so lifelike, it is very hard to believe that you are actually watching a surface built from simple shapes of triangles. Phil Dench tells us how he uses mathematics to help bring these models to life.

Career interview: Visual effects director
Alexis Wajsbrot is a visual effects specialist who has worked on a number of high-profile films including Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince, Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix, Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd, and also on some of those visually stunning commercials you see while waiting for your film to start. His speciality is anything that behaves like a fluid: water, smoke, fire, even fur or cloth. He told us how he uses maths to simulate nature on a computer.

Maths, madness and movies
Mathematicians have often been considered a little eccentric; Charles Darwin once defined a mathematician as "a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat which isn't there." Now, in the age of film, movie makers seem to go one step further: mathematicians appear to be disturbed at best, displaying a kind of neuroses through numbers. Since here at Plus we firmly believe in our sanity, we're puzzled as to why.

Plus podcast: Maths in the movies
Maths has long been a theme in the movies. In this podcast we talk to Madeleine Shepherd, organiser of a maths film festival at the Edinburgh science festival, about how maths has been presented in the movies over the years, with particular reference to three more recent films, Cube, Pi and Flatland.

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December 11, 2010
Plain Bob

Bells can do a lot more than just jingle! In fact, being a decent bell ringer requires razor-sharp mathematical precision and a vast memory. And just 16 bells are enough to provide your neighbours with over a million years of non-repeating bellish amusement. Find out how with Ringing the changes.

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December 10, 2010

Today the Nobel Prize award ceremonies will be held in Sweden! And while there may not be a Nobel Prize for maths, most of the science laureates' achievements would be impossible without it. Find out why with our stories on some of this and past years' Nobel Prizes:

Maths has its very own important prize of course, called the Fields Medal. This year Plus was proud to be present at the International Congress of Mathmaticians in India, where the medals were awarded. Find out all about what we got up to with our news coverage from the congress, including interviews with some of the medallists in our podcasts.

And if you still haven't got enough of prizes, have a look at our coverage of previous Fields Medals, as well as the Abel Prize.

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December 8, 2010

Maths is the language of the universe: not only does it describe how the universe works, it also may be the secret weapon in the hunt for extraterrestrial life. And if we find them, maths might also provide the ideal way to break the ice with our little green friends from across the sky...

Hunting for life in alien worlds
Two of the most fundamental questions asked by people are how life emerged on the Earth, and whether we are alone in the cosmos. These deeply important questions form the core of a new kind of science, one that recently has been rapidly gathering momentum: astrobiology. You can also read more in Lewis Dartnell's excellent book Life in the Universe. And you can even hear Lewis talk about the science behind the latest aliens to hit the big screen in Monsters!

Life as we don't know it
Physicist and cosmologist Paul Davies is also doing research in astrobiology. He tells Plus about his interest in the big questions: what is life, how would we recognise aliens - and are they all around us?

Mathematics for aliens
It has often been observed that mathematics is astonishingly effective as a tool for understanding the universe. But why should this be? Is mathematics a universal truth, and how would we tell?

Games, Life and the Game of Life
When we finally meet the Martians, John Conway believes they are going to want to talk mathematics. He talks to Plus about his Life game, artificial life and what we will have in common with extraterrestrials.

Pi appears in crop circle
If these are alien calling cards, then we can be sure they are keen mathematicians.

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