Plus Blog

March 7, 2008
Friday, March 07, 2008

The Big Questions

As part of this year's National Science and Engineering Week, the BA are running a project called The Big Questions, which challenges the public to pose their burning science and engineering questions through live events, online and via the media.

Sir Roland Jackson, Chief Executive of the BA, said:

"Questioning is at the heart of scientific discovery. From evolution to space exploration British scientists have always been courageous in asking and solving some of the big questions of their time. In doing so, they have expanded our knowledge, earned our respect and enriched our lives. We want to celebrate our nation’s innate curiosity by encouraging the public to share with us their big questions on life, the universe and beyond. In return, we will ask some of our best scientific brains to come up with an answer."

Helping to answer the questions are Oxford University Press, Brainiac LIVE!, The Punk Scientists, The British Library and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.

Questions that have been asked already include:

  • I understand that DNA is the basis for all life on Earth - but how could such a complex molecule come into existence? Phil Parry from Berkshire (age 55+)
  • Why does different music trigger different emotions? Paige Day from Hampshire (age 5-14)

Scientists who have posted their own questions include:

  • Science writer Simon Singh (who has been featured on Plus) asked: "Computers can beat humans at chess, but which games are still dominated by humans?"
  • Ian Pearson MP, Minister of State (Minister for Science and Innovation) asked: "How much life is there left in our planet?"

You can find a list of the questions that have been posed so far, or post your own question, at: The event will be launched to the national media on 6th March. The BA is currently looking for more scientists and experts to help answer some questions, and so if you know the answers to any of the questions posed and want to help out, you can answer by posting on their blog.

Apart from online, other Big Questions are going to be answered at events organised by the Science Museum, Jodrell Bank, the National Botanic Garden of Wales, Cambridge Science Festival and the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience.

posted by westius @ 5:01 PM


March 5, 2008
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
Love maths and think you've got what it takes to be a designer? The Further Mathematics Network and Rolls-Royce plc are inviting entries for a new UK national poster competition for undergraduate and PGCE mathematics students. The academic year 2007-8 is the first year that the competition has been run, and there is a £100 prize awarded for the design of each winning poster — it is likely that two posters will be selected. The winning designs will be sent to schools and colleges around the UK, meaning that your poster may be exposed to tens of thousands of teachers, students and parents — the potential audience is over 2000 schools and colleges.



posted by westius @ 5:00 PM


March 4, 2008
Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Evolution is the main theme of this issue. With Darwin's anniversary year not too far off, we find out how to reconstruct the tree of life and how to spot the fingerprint of natural selection. We report on the rapidly melting Arctic, bound to destroy much of evolution's achievements, and explore the maths used in ice and ocean models. And we have a look at cellular automata, simple mathematical models that can evolve surprisingly complex behaviour. Plus you can learn how to best distribute money amongst your employees without evolving envy.

Apart from that you will find the usual Editorial, Outer space, puzzle and book and film reviews.

Read issue 46 now!

posted by Plus @ 4:26 PM


March 1, 2008
Saturday, March 01, 2008

Bacon sandwiches, drinking while pregnant, obesity — health risks are a favourite with the media. But behind the simple numbers quoted in the headlines lies a huge and sophisticated body of statistical research. We talk to Professor Sheila Bird of the Biostatistics Unit in Cambridge about her work in public health and its impact on policy, and discuss bias in pharmaceutical studies, as recently highlighted by the controversy around antidepressants.

Hear more...


posted by Plus @ 4:18 PM


February 21, 2008
Thursday, February 21, 2008

Recent research suggests that generalists can thrive in society, even though most theories of evolution, and even Greek philosopher Plato, argue that individuals who perform specialist tasks are more likely to succeed.



posted by Plus @ 2:13 PM


February 13, 2008
Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Happy Valentines Day from Plus

Mathematics is the tool we use to solve our problems. But can maths uncover the secrets behind love? Given that love is a game, and mathematical game theory can be used to find the best strategies to win at games, why not try and apply maths to love?

So here, on Valentines Day, are some Plus stories from society's most lucky in love, the mathematicians:

  • Love's a gamble — Delve into the application of game theory to love. Is it really in your best interests to buy an expensive present for the object of your affection, or will they merely find your show of ostentatiousness pretentious?
  • Maths, love and man's best friend — Finding your perfect partner, it seems, is simply a mathematical process. Dr Peter Todd, of the Max Planck Institute in Munich, says that by the time you have met 12 potential partners, you have enough information to make a good choice as to who should be your life-long love.
  • 'Calculus' — Why sex is like mathematics? Because both can lead to productive results but that is not what we are thinking when we conduct it....
  • 2007 Nobel Prizes won by mathematicians — The maths behind one of last year's Nobel Prizes ensures happy marriages!
  • Symmetry, dance and sexual selection — There are not many concepts that are fundamental to both maths and sex, but symmetry is one of them. In maths the study of symmetry forms the basis of a vast field called group theory and can be exploited to understand the patterns inherent in nature and the abstract world. On the other hand, scientists have long suspected that the symmetry of a person or animal's body is an indicator of health and strength and therefore desirability as a potential mate. Does it make us more attractive?
  • And finally, does the Golden Ratio really have anything to do with beauty?
From everyone here at Plus, have a great Valentines Day and we hope all your sexy mathematical dreams come true.

posted by Plus @ 11:34 AM


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