Suppose you have an infinitely large sheet of paper (mathematicians refer to this hypothetical object as the plane). You also have a number of different colours - pots of paint, perhaps. Your aim is to colour every point on the plane using the colours available. That is, each point must be assigned one colour.
Over the past one hundred years, mathematics has been used to understand and predict the spread of diseases, relating important public-health questions to basic infection parameters. Matthew Keeling describes some of the mathematical developments that have improved our understanding and predictive ability.
Arguably, the exponential function crops up more than any other when using mathematics to describe the physical world. In the second of two articles on physical phenomena which obey exponential laws, Ian Garbett discusses radioactive decay.
Adam Smith is often thought of as the father of modern economics. In his book "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations" Smith decribed the "invisible hand" mechanism by which he felt economic society operated. Modern game theory has much to add to Smith's description.