News from the world of Maths

May 4, 2010

Magic squares have been known and studied for many centuries, but there are still surprisingly many unanswered questions about them. In an effort to make progress on these unsolved problems, twelve prizes totalling €8,000 and twelve bottles of champagne have now been offered for the solutions to twelve magic square enigmas.

April 29, 2010

Tonight, in the final televised debate ahead of the election, the three main party leaders will talk about the economy, the recession, public sector debt, spending or cuts, and more. All will use statistics to back up their points or to pull apart their opponents' arguments. But how can we work out whether to believe the figures and what do they really mean?

April 28, 2010

Did aliens help prehistoric Britons found the ancient Woolworths civilisation? And what does tying your shoe laces have to do with DNA? Find out with this year's popular lectures organised by the London Mathematical Society. Matt Parker of Queen Mary, University of London, will explore how seemingly incredible results can actually be meaningless random patterns, and Dorothy Buck of Imperial College, London, will look at how mathematical knot theory helps to understand DNA.

April 28, 2010

Due to popular demand, we're revisiting our poll to find your favourite fictional mathematician.

April 26, 2010

Being killed in a peacekeeping mission apparently depends on your nationality, at least if you're a soldier in the Spanish army. On the 1st of February 2010 the Colombian soldier John Felipe Romero serving in the Spanish army was killed in a terrorist attack in Afghanistan. It was then made public that so far 43% of the Spanish troops killed in attacks by local forces in Afghanistan and Lebanon have been foreigners. This is in striking contrast to the fact that foreign nationals make up only 7% of the Spanish army as a whole.

April 20, 2010

Researchers from the University of Maryland have devised a new kind of random number generator that is cryptographically secure, inherently private and — most importantly — certified random by the laws of physics. Randomness is important, particularly in the age of the Internet, because it guarantees security. Valuable data and messages can be encrypted using long strings of random numbers to act as "keys", which encode and decode the information. Randomness implies unpredictability, so if the key is truly random, it's next to impossible for an outsider to guess it.

April 9, 2010

One advantage of the UK voting system is that nobody could possibly fail to understand how it works. However, the disadvantages are well-known. Differently sized constituencies mean that the party in government doesn't necessarily have the largest share of the vote. The first-past-the-post system turns the election into a two-horse race, which leaves swathes of the population un-represented, forces tactical voting, and turns election campaigns into mud-slinging contests.

There are many alternative voting systems, but is there a perfect one? The answer, in a mathematical sense, is no.

April 1, 2010

Lack of statistical detail leads to wrong conclusions