Issue 53

December 2009

If you like your maths in unusual contexts, then this is the issue for you! We explore the power of origami to solve ancient (and very modern) problems, find the maths in fashion, and marvel at the complexities of church bell ringing. But it's not all fun and games, as we investigate the controversies surrounding breast screening and the maths behind drug-induced hallucinations, find out how to predict the impact of natural catastrophes, and answer some deep questions about the Universe.

Did you know that church bell ringers have to memorise sequences of several thousand numbers, and that it can take up to 18 hours to translate these sequences into perfect bell ringing? Burkard Polster and Marty Ross explain why, and explore the maths behind bell ringing.
We've all heard of origami. It's all about making paper birds and pretty boxes, and is really just a game invented by Japanese kids, right? Prepare to be surprised as Liz Newton takes you on a journey of origami, maths and science.
The obvious answer is 24 hours, but, as Nicholas Mee discovers, that would be far too simple. In fact, the length of a day varies throughout the year. If you plot the position of the Sun in the sky at the same time every day, you get a strange figure of eight which has provided one artist with a source for inspiration.
Hardly six months go by without a natural disaster striking some part of the globe. While it's next to impossible to predict these catastrophes, let alone prevent them, mathematical modelling gives a way to prepare for their impact. Shane Latchman explains.
Think drug-induced hallucinations, and the whirly, spirally, tunnel-vision-like patterns of psychedelic imagery immediately spring to mind. But it's not just hallucinogenic drugs that conjure up these geometric structures. People have reported seeing them in near-death experiences, following sensory deprivation, or even just after applying pressure to the eyeballs. So what can these patterns tell us about the structure of our brains?

Seven things everyone wants to know about the Universe

One in nine women will get breast cancer in her lifetime, and it seems sensible to screen women for breast cancer to treat them as early as possible. But, as David Spiegelhalter explains, screening is a controversial issue.

Sandy Black, Professor of Fashion and Textile Design, has combined her love of art and design with her love of mathematics in her career as a knitwear designer. Sandy talks to Plus about the mathematics in fashion, knitting, and how science and fashion could make the world a better place.
The notion of proof lies at the very heart of maths: it's when it comes to proving things that mathematicians let lose their genius and creativity, and in the process often discover unexpected surprises or deep philosophical issues. But proofs can also be daunting. So to help you and your students along, we've brought together a range of Plus articles on proofs.
How many times can't you tell the time?
Sustainable energy - without the hot air by David MacKay A lot is written about energy efficiency and renewable energy, but do the sums add up?
I am the first person to admit I don't have an artistic bone in my body. In fact I find it difficult to think visually at all, let alone imagining shapes and structures in three dimensions.
In these days of debates on climate change we're often reminded of that other great clash between science and authority, the staunch refusal by the Catholic church to accept that the Earth moves around the Sun.