Astronomers have this month trained the world's largest steerable radio telescope on 86 Earth-like planets. The data collected by the telescope will later be analsyed by an estimated one million amateur alien hunters, users of SETI@home, for messages from other civilisations.
Guilt, so some people have suggested, is what makes us nice. When we do someone a favour or choose not to exploit someone vulnerable, we do it because we fear the guilt we'd feel otherwise. A team of neuroscientists, psychologists and economists have this month produced some new results in this area, using a model from psychological game theory.
If you are prone to forgetting your passwords, you're not alone. To make sure
we remember all our passwords, many of us take measures that defeat the
purpose. These include, as studies have shown, using the same password for everything or writing them down on post-it
notes and sticking them to our computer. But such sloppiness makes
easy work for evil agents out to steal our data and identities. Now physicists from the US and Germany have devised a safer way of
using passwords that takes account of the human need for
When you try to put democracy into action you quickly run into tricky maths problems. This is what happened to Andrew Duff, rapporteur for the European Constitutional Affairs Committee, who was charged with finding a fair way of allocating seats of the European Parliament to Member States. Wisely, he went to ask the experts: last year he approached mathematicians at the University of Cambridge to help come up with a solution. A committee of mathematicians from all over Europe was promptly formed and today it has published its recommendation.
In the 1930s the logician Kurt Gödel showed that if you set out proper rules for mathematics, you lose the ability to decide whether certain statements are true or false. This is rather shocking and you may wonder why Gödel's result hasn't wiped out mathematics once and for all. The answer is that, initially at least, the unprovable statements logicians came up with were quite contrived. But are they about to enter mainstream mathematics?
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.
It's been nearly 18 months since the Large
Hadron Collider at CERN started up and scientists are eagerly awaiting their first glimpse into the
cosmic mysteries it was designed to explore. But when can we realistically
expect the first ground-breaking discoveries to come through? Last week, John Ellis,
outgoing leader of the theory division at CERN, addressed an audience
of physicists at the University of Cambridge to update them on the
current state of play. Plus went along and also managed to
catch Ellis for a quick interview.
Many people like mathematics because it gives definite answers. Things are either true or false, and true things seem true in a very fundamental way. But it's not quite like that. You can actually build different versions of maths in which statements are true or false depending on your preference. So is maths just a game in which we choose the rules to suit our purpose? Or is there a "correct" set of rules to use? We find out with the mathematician Hugh Woodin.
This book is a mixture between an encyclopedia and a collection of intriguing ideas. In some sense, it's a plain English encyclopedia of maths, embellished with some examples for entertainment. So whether you're trying to get at the "true" meaning of something textbooks only define using passionless symbols, or are looking for a little diversion before going to sleep, this book can give you both.