Issue 36

September 2005
In this issue we illuminate logic, find out why everything's relative, take a journey on the interplanetary superhighway, and maybe even encounter extraterrestrial life.
What do computers and light switches have in common? Yutaka Nishiyama illuminates the connection between light bulbs, logic and binary arithmetic.
Most of us are aware that Einstein proved that everything was relative ... or something like that. But we go no further, believing that we aren't clever enough to understand what he did. Hardeep Aiden sets out to persuade readers that they too can understand an idea as elegantly simple as it was original.
In the last issue Lewis Dartnell explained how chaos on the brain is not only unavoidable but also beneficial. Now he tells us why the same is true for our solar system and sends us on a journey that has been travelled by comets and spacecraft.
Physicist and cosmologist Paul Davies has made an unusual move into the infant discipline of 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?
The maths of infinite series
  • Where is the next generation? - more bad news for maths education.
  • Can Plus cure crazy scientists? - the science stereotype persists.
Riaz Ahmad's mathematical career has led him from the complexities of blood flow to the risks of the financial markets via underwater acoustics. Plus found out how maths can explain all this and more.
Losing a pound
Over the last few years there has been a rush of 'The Science of ...' books - popular science titles written to tie in with the recent release of a popular film or book. These include: The Science of The X-files, The Science of Star Wars, The Science of Superheroes, The Science of Supervillains, The Science of Discworld (volumes I, II and III), and The Science of Harry Potter. And into this fray now strides Michael Hanlon with his own offering to the genre.
The topic of this book - the Banach-Tarski Paradox - is a result so strange and counterintuitive that the author says he didn't believe it when he first saw it. The "paradox" - in fact an impeccable mathematical theorem - says that a small sphere, for example a pea, can be cut into as few as five pieces which can then be reassembled so as to make a far bigger sphere, for example the sun.
Have you ever wondered what shape a football is? No, it is not a sphere - it is far closer to something called a truncated icosahedron, also known as a "buckyball". It consists of 12 black pentagons and 20 white hexagons and is about the most effective way of creating something nearly spherical out of flat panels. Curious sporting-related mathematical facts like this can be found throughout Eastaway and Haigh's book "How to take a penalty, the hidden mathematics of sport".