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Constructing our lives: the mathematics of engineering

What do Gollum, the London 2012 Olympic stadium and the quest for sustainable energy have in common? They all involve the work of engineers. Engineering provides some of the most exciting applications of maths, which impact on all our lives every day.

This page contains all the material produced for an exciting project, Constructing our lives, which we ran with kind support from The Royal Academy of Engineering to highlight the importance and excitement of engineering, as well as some existing Plus content that's relevant to the subject.

All our other articles and podcasts are grouped according to the areas of life that are affected by the engineering aspects explored in them:

Latest article:

The only way is up: Constructing the Heron tower

Looking out to Canary Wharf, to the arch at Wembley Stadium, and down onto the Gherkin, the 700 people working on the construction site of the Heron Tower in London had one of the best views in London. Plus was lucky enough to speak to two engineers involved in building the tower and asked how maths was involved in the construction of such an impressive addition to the London skyline. Read more...



We also created an A3 poster highlighting the project content for schools and libraries.


Happy reading and listening!

Movies, music and art

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 would not have been possible without maths. Engineer Joan Lasenby gives us a glimpse of her work at the movies. Read more...


Why is the violin so hard to play?

Things that vibrate are of major concern to engineers, since often their job is to tune these vibrations. In this articles two engineers use turn their vibration expertise to the violin. Read more...


What makes an object into a musical instrument?

Many things make a noise when you hit them, but not many are commonly used to play music — why is that? Jim Woodhouse, Professor of Structural Dynamics, looks at harmonic and not so harmonic frequencies, and at how percussion instruments are tuned.Read more...


Catching waves: the podcast

Sound comes in waves and digital images, too, can be thought of in terms of waves. In this podcast we explore one of the most important tool used by many many engineers every day: the Fourier transform. Hear more...



Sport

How the velodrome found its form

The Velodrome, with its striking curved shape, was the first venue to be completed in the London Olympic Park. Plus talked to structural engineers Andrew Weir and Pete Winslow from Expedition Engineering, who were part of the design team for the Velodrome, about how mathematics helped create its iconic shape.

There is also an accompanying podcast for this article.

Read more...


Making gold for 2012

Last week leading researchers in sports technology met at the Royal Academy of Engineering in London to demonstrate just how far their field has come over recent years. The changes they make to athletes' equipment and clothes may only make a tiny difference to their performance, but once they're added up they can mean the difference between gold and silver. Read more...


Leaning into 2012

Rising, like a giant pringle from the Olympic Park construction site, the Velodrome is the first of the 2012 London Olympic venues to be completed. Inside is an elegant wooden cycling track which is tilted with respect to the ground by up to 42 degrees. Find out how cyclists use these perilously banked turns to generate maximum speed. Read more...


Making a racket: the science of tennis

If you're a tennis player, your most important piece of equipment is your racket. Over recent decades new materials designed by engineers have made tennis rackets ever bigger, lighter and more powerful. So what kind of science goes into designing new rackets? Read more...


Swimming in mathematics

One of the most impressing features of the 2008 Beijing Olympics was the beautiful aquatics venue, known as the water cube. Looking like it's been slices from a giant bubble foam, the design was based on an unsolved maths problem and although the bubbles look completely random, the underlying structure is highly regular and buildable. Read more...


Outer space: when errors snowball

When you're building an Olympic swimming pool or race track, you obviously have to make sure they are of the right length — but surely a couple of centimetres more or less don't matter? This articles shows that they do. Read more...


Supersonic bloodhound

In 1997 Andy Green was the first to break the sound barrier in his car Thrust SSC, which reached speeds of over 760mph. Last year he and his team wanted to push things even further with a car called Bloodhound, designed to reach the dizzy heights of 1,000mph, about 1.3 times the speed of sound. Aerodynamic engineer Ben Evans, part of the Bloodhound team, explores how this car was built. Read more...


Stadium maths: The podcast

Like tuning forks stadiums can resonate and if they resonate at the wrong frequency, disaster strikes. We talk to civil engineer Paul Shepherd about this and other things you need to keep in mind to make stadiums safe. Hear more...



Energy and the environment

Facing the climate challenge: The podcast

Some have suggested that the changes that are needed to meet the climate challenge are similar in scale to the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century. For this podcast we talked to engineer Alison Cooke, who manages a project called Energy Efficiency in the Built Environment, and two PhD students at the Centre for sustainable Development in Cambridge, and find out how engineers work with Government, business and other groups to help ensure a sustainable future. Hear more...


Perfect buildings: the maths of modern architecture

These days designing a new building isn't just about making sure it won't fall down and looks good. Making sure it's environmentally friendly is equally important. This article looks at the considerations that have gone into designing the London gherkin and the London city hall. Read more...



Outer space: blowin' in the wind

How to make sure your wind turbine generates a maximal amount of energy. Read more...


Bracing for the storm

A mathematical model borrowed from engineering helps predict how vulnerable coral reefs will react to the challenges of climate change.Read more...



Medicine and health

Stretch, but without the wrinkles

A team of nanoengineers have constructed new materials that don't wrinkle when you stretch them. This makes them similar to tissue found in the human body, so they may in the future be used to repair damaged heart walls, blood vessels and skin. Read more...


Shaping our bones

We know that applying a force to a bone during its development can influence its growth and shape. But can we use our understanding of how developing bone reacts to mechanical forces to help people suffering from diseases that lead to bone deformities? Read more...


Saving lives: the mathematics of tomography

Not so long ago, if you had a medical complaint, doctors had to open you up to see what it was. These days they have a range of sophisticated imaging techniques at their disposal, saving you the risk and pain of an operation. Engineer Cathryn Mitchell and mathematician Chris Budd explain the maths that lies behind these medical techniques, and also much of the digital revolution. Read more...



Kelvin's bubble burst again

A mechanical engineer tackles an old geometric problem with a new method, which may lead to advances in creating hip replacements and replacement bone tissue for bone cancer patients. Read more...



Construction and architecture

The only way is up: Constructing the Heron tower

Looking out to Canary Wharf, to the arch at Wembley Stadium, and down onto the Gherkin, the 700 people working on the construction site of the Heron Tower in London had one of the best views in London. Plus was lucky enough to speak to two engineers involved in building the tower and asked how maths was involved in the construction of such an impressive addition to the London skyline. Read more...


How the velodrome found its form

The Velodrome, with its striking curved shape, was the first venue to be completed in the London Olympic Park. Plus talked to structural engineers Andrew Weir and Pete Winslow from Expedition Engineering, who were part of the design team for the Velodrome, about how mathematics helped create its iconic shape.

There is also an accompanying podcast for this article.

Read more...


Quake-proof

Earthquakes kill thousands of people every year, with most dying when buildings collapse. So how can we make sure the structure we live, work and play in are as safe as possible?Read more...


Millennial wobbles

The famous Millennium Bridge in London was opened in June 2000, only to close again two days later because it developed a dangerous wobble. So what or who caused the wobble? Read more...


Spaghetti breakthrough

Why does dry spaghetti snap not into two, but three, four, and sometimes even ten pieces when it is bent? This mystery has worried many great minds and its answer has consequences for engineers. Read more...


Outer space: Bridging that gap

One of the great human engineering achievements has been the construction of great bridges to span rivers and gorges that would otherwise be impassable. The elegant Golden Gate Bridge, Brunel's remarkable Clifton Suspension Bridge, or the Ponte Hercilio Luz in Brazil, have spectacular shapes that look smooth and similar. But what are they?Read more...


Outer space: pylon of the month

Next time you go on a train journey look carefully at the pylons as they pass swiftly by. Each is made of a network of metal struts that make use of a single recurring polygonal shape. That shape is the triangle. But why a triangle? Read more...


Outer space: when errors snowball

When you're building an Olympic swimming pool or race track, you obviously have to make sure they are of the right length — but surely a couple of centimetres more or less don't matter? This articles shows that they do. Read more...


Swimming in mathematics

One of the most impressing features of the 2008 Beijing Olympics was the beautiful aquatics venue, known as the water cube. Looking like it's been slices from a giant bubble foam, the design was based on an unsolved maths problem and although the bubbles look completely random, the underlying structure is highly regular and buildable. Read more...


Stadium maths: The podcast

Like tuning forks stadiums can resonate and if they resonate at the wrong frequency, disaster strikes. We talk to civil engineer Paul Shepherd about this and other things you need to keep in mind to make stadiums safe. Hear more...


Perfect buildings: the maths of modern architecture

These days designing a new building isn't just about making sure it won't fall down and looks good. Making sure it's environmentally friendly is equally important. This article looks at the considerations that have gone into designing the London gherkin and the London city hall. Read more...



Transport: land, water, air and space

Spaceships are doing it for themselves

It requires only a little processing power, but it's a giant leap for robotkind: engineers at the University of Southampton have developed a way of equipping spacecraft and satellites with human-like reasoning capabilities, which will enable them to make important decisions for themselves. Read more....


The right spin: how to fly a broken spacecraft

On the 25th of May 1997 a dramatic collision tore a hole into the space station Mir and sent it hurtling through space. As NASA astronaut Michael Foale tells Plus, the fate of Mir and its crew hinged on a set of equations that many engineers know of by heart. Read more....


Maths on a plane

A little piece of fiction explores the equations that make flight possible.Read more....


Supersonic bloodhound

In 1997 Andy Green was the first to break the sound barrier in his car Thrust SSC, which reached speeds of over 760mph. Last year he and his team wanted to push things even further with a car called Bloodhound, designed to reach the dizzy heights of 1,000mph, about 1.3 times the speed of sound. Aerodynamic engineer Ben Evans, part of the Bloodhound team, explores how this car was built. Read more...



Computers and robots

Controlling cockroach chaos

Catching sight of a cockroach tends to make us behave chaotically, what with the running and screaming and throwing of shoes. But it appears that chaos might actually explain how we, and the cockroach itself, behave. Meet a robotic cockroach with a chaotic brain. Read more...



Careers in engineering

Career interview: Cost engineer

Heather MacKinlay's work as an engineer has taken her from the civility of Surrey to the wild west of Australian mining towns and multibillion pound projects in the Algerian desert. And along the way she has also become a successful painter. Heather tells Plus that engineering and painting are just different ways of looking at the world, and how her work as a cost engineer is all about understanding the big picture. Read more...

Career interview: systems engineer

Chuck Gill caught the space bug as a child when watching Alan Shepherd launch into space. Since then he's worked as a US Air Force navigator, a satellite operator, and in the US intelligence service. These days he's busy reducing carbon emissions and preparing London for the 2012 Olympics. Plus went to see him to find out more about his career. Read more... This interview is also available as a podcast.

Career interview: biomechanical engineer

José Muñoz explains how engineering can allow you to explore the unknown, from understanding how mechanical structures bend to investigating the way genes affect the shape of embryos. Read more...

Career interview: fluid mechanics researcher

Chemical engineer André Léger studies the fluid mechanics of food travelling through the intestines for consumer goods giant Unilever. Read more...

Career interview: audio software engineer

Skot McDonald talks to Plus about how he uses mathematics to understand music, and how he managed to combine his passions for music and computing to create a successful career.Read more...

Career interview: electronic engineer

Geraldine Paxton, an electronics engineer, is a member of the Ford Motor Company Limited's graduate trainee scheme. Geraldine tells us about her work there, from driving cars on the German autobahns to ensuring production lines keep working. There's also salary information and a careers contact point.Read more...

Career interview: performance engineer, Rolls Royce

Adrian Bird, a performance engineer at Rolls Royce, tells Plus that it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. You can follow your dreams to do maths and it can lead you to the skies. Read more...

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