Issue 37

December 2005

What is maths? Is it an art form with every idea a work of perfect beauty? Is it a quest for truth that may one day deliver a Theory of Everything? Or is it a tool, essential in anything from fighting crime to calculating airline ticket prices? In this issue we show you that it's all of these, and that it can even produce its own media superstars.

One hundred years ago, in 1905, Albert Einstein changed physics forever with his special theory of relativity. Since then his name — and hair do — have become synonymous with genius. John D Barrow looks at Einstein as a media star.
Maths is not the first thing that springs to mind when you think about fighting crime. But a closer look reveals that it is behind many of the techniques that modern detectives rely on. Chris Budd investigates.
It's not that long ago that all you needed to run an airline was a few planes and some competent pilots. But now, with more of us zipping around the globe every year and the advent of no frills airlines, keeping an airline competitive has become a complicated business. Christine Currie explains how your airfare is calculated.
Carla Farsi is both an artist and a mathematician, who declared 2005 her Special Year for art and maths. Find out what she got up to, and what it's like being a part of both worlds.
Kurt Gödel, who would have celebrated his 100th birthday next year, showed in 1931 that the power of maths to explain the world is limited: his famous incompleteness theorem proves mathematically that maths cannot prove everything. 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.
Collecting chances

Where is the next generation? — more bad news for maths education.

Adrian Dow has a huge change ahead of him: after fourteen years in the UK and around the world, he's about to return to his native Trinidad with the ultimate aim to open his own school. Plus intercepted him on the way to the airport.
Mystery Christmas theft
'If I had to describe this book using just one word, then this word would be "passionate". This may be surprising seeing that we are dealing with maths, or, to be precise, metamaths, the study of mathematical truth. But this book is as much about the author's love for his subject as it is about the maths itself, and this love shines through on every page. Chaitin doesn't just describe his mathematical ideas to you, he also tells you where he was when he had them, how it felt having them, and about the mysterious creative processes that are involved.
Cartoons can help to bring down governments, but can they help to revolutionise science? This seems to be the hope of Robert Laughlin, whose book on the exciting field of emergence is littered with his hand-drawn cartoons. His Nobel Prize in physics has given him the confidence to share his art and to hope that his cartoons help to explain how science can be revolutionised, or "re-invented". But what is this Different Universe, to what extent is it a reinvention, and how well does Laughlin set out his case?
Throughout history, millions have been won and lost on the stock market: lost in the Wall Street Crash of 1929, won in the Dot-Com Boom of the 1990s. We all know that playing on the markets is a dicey game, but after decades of research we now have a better understanding of the way markets work. Or do we? According to Benoît Mandelbrot, modern financial theory is based on unrealistic assumptions that need a complete re-think.