Articles

It's not the winning, it's the taking part that counts. At least, that's what the Olympic creed would have us believe. But, like it or not, what the media and governments focus on is the tally of gold medals. This article explores some of the maths of gold.

Many things make a noise when you hit them, but not many are commonly used to play music — why is that? Jim Woodhouse looks at harmonic and not so harmonic frequencies and at how percussion instruments are tuned.

The world we live in is strictly 3-dimensional: up/down, left/right, and forwards/backwards, these are the only ways to move. For years, scientists and science fiction writers have contemplated the possibilities of higher dimensional spaces. What would a 4- or 5-dimensional universe look like? Or might it even be true that we already inhabit such a space, that our 3-dimensional home is no more than a slice through a higher dimensional realm, just as a slice through a 3-dimensional cube produces a 2-dimensional square?

That geometry should be relevant to physics is no surprise — after all, space is the arena in which physics happens. What is surprising, though, is the extent to which the geometry of space actually determines physics and just how exotic the geometric structure of our Universe appears to be. Plus met up with mathematician Shing-Tung Yau to find out more.

This article is based on a talk I gave at the recent John Cage exhibition in the Kettles Yard gallery in Cambridge. Cage is perhaps best known for his avant-garde music, particularly his silent 1952 composition 4′33″ but also for his use of randomness in aleatory music. But Cage also used randomness in his art.

Florence Nightingale died a hundred years ago, in August 1910. She survives in our imaginations as an inspired nurse, who cared passionately for injured and dying soldiers during the Crimean war, and then radically reformed professional nursing as a result of the horrors she witnessed. But the "lady with the lamp" was also a pioneering and passionate statistician. She understood the influential role of statistics and used them to support her convictions. So to commemorate her on the centenary of her death, we'll have a look at her life and work as a statistician.

England's performance in the World Cup last summer was thankfully overshadowed by the attention given to Paul the octopus, who was reported as making an unbroken series of correct predictions of match winners. David Spiegelhalter looks at Paul's performance in an attempt to answer the question that (briefly) gripped the world: was Paul psychic?

The human brain faces a difficult trade-off. On the one hand it needs to be complex to ensure high performance, and on the other it needs to minimise "wiring cost" — the sum of the length of all the connections — because communication over distance takes a lot of energy. It's a problem well-known to computer scientists. And it seems that market driven human invention and natural selection have come up with similar solutions.