Plus Blog

November 2, 2009
Monday, November 02, 2009

What would you like to know about your Universe — The last online poll

This poll is now closed. The most popular question was: "How long is a day?" We will publish the answer in an article on Plus shortly. Thank you for taking part!

This is the last online poll in our series to celebrate the International Year of Astronomy 2009. Choose your favourite question from the list on the right, and we'll put the one that proves most popular to world-leading astronomers and cosmologists. The poll will remain open for a month and the answer will be published in a Plus article and possibly a podcast soon after.

The winning questions in our previous polls have been

The answer to the last question will be published on Plus shortly.


posted by Plus @ 4:10 PM


October 27, 2009
Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cancer is one of the major causes of death in the world (particularly the developed world), with around 11 million people diagnosed and around 7 million people dying each year. The World Health Organisation predicts that current trends show around 9 million will die in 2015, with the number rising to 11.5 million in 2030.

Cancer is the focus of much medical research, but perhaps surprisingly, mathematical research is also playing its part. Mathematician Mark Chaplain and an interdisciplinary team at the University of Dundee, have been awarded 1.7 million euros to develop a virtual model of cancer growth and spread.

Read more!

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posted by Plus @ 2:03 PM


October 23, 2009
Friday, October 23, 2009

Maths student poster competition just launched!

If you're a maths student and feel like enthusing the next generation with your favourite bit of maths, then why not take part in the Further Mathematics Support Programme (FMSP) and Rolls–Royce plc third national poster competition.

Undergraduate or PGCE mathematics students are invited to design a poster, individually or as a group, which conveys the essence of a mathematical topic that has been covered at university by the designer(s). The poster should be targeted at school and college students studying AS or A level mathematics. Two winners will be chosen and receive £100 each, and their designs will be printed and sent out to over 2000 schools and colleges. The closing date is the 31st of March 2010. See the FMSP website for previous winners.

If this sounds interesting, then here are the rules. The poster should be mathematically accurate, attractively laid out, capable of enriching a course in AS or A level mathematics, and likely to attract school/college students to take mathematics (or mathematics-related subjects) at university. You can design your poster in any readily available software. Ideally, the page layout should be set to 59.4cm × 42.0cm, using either landscape or portrait format. The university's logo should appear in the top left corner and there should be a space 7cm high x 5cm wide in the top right corner for the FMSP logo. The bottom 2cm of the poster should be left blank. All images should be at least 300dpi.

Entries, as well as any questions about the competition, should be emailed to Richard Browne at The email must include the name(s) and full contact details of the designer(s). The poster design should be attached to the e-mail, in the form of an editable file. The FMSP reserves the right to edit the winning designs before printing.

Happy designing!

posted by Plus @ 9:45 AM


October 22, 2009
Thursday, October 22, 2009

Michael Green replaces Stephen Hawking in Lucasian chair

Congratulations to Michael Green who has been elected the 18th holder of the Lucasian Professorship of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, one of the most prestigious academic positions in the mathematical sciences.

Isaac Newton was the second person to hold it in the 17th century, and he has been succeeded by mathematical giants including Charles Babbage, father of computer science, the theoretical physicist Paul Dirac, and of course Stephen Hawking, who has been holding the chair since 1979. Hawking stepped down from the professorship in the year of his 67th birthday, as university statutes require.

Michael Green is one of the founders of string theory, which he pioneered from the early seventies onwards. Apart from original research in the area, his contributions include the a textbook co-authored with Edward Witten and John Schwarz, which for many years remained the only string theory text book around.

Peter Haynes, Head of the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at Cambridge, said: "Michael Green has played a leading role in theoretical physics research in the department since 1993. He is internationally known as a pioneer in string theory which over the last 20 years has become one of the most important and active areas of the field. In the department he continues to make important advances in this topic and at the same time to support and inspire young researchers. His appointment as Lucasian Professor continues the very distinguished tradition of that post."

You can read more in the Plus articles:

posted by Plus @ 4:03 PM


October 22, 2009
Thursday, October 22, 2009

The idea that economics is all about the markets has been challenged by this year's award of the Nobel Prize in Economics. One half of the prize has gone to the political scientist Elinor Ostrom for showing that natural resources, like fish stocks or woodlands, can be commonly owned and still managed successfully. The other half of the prize has been awarded to the economist Oliver E. Williamson for demonstrating that the internal structures of firms and companies can be better at resolving conflicts than the open market. The award of the prize shows that economic theory can shed light not just on hard business transactions, but also on other forms of social organisation.

Read more!


posted by Plus @ 1:26 PM


October 16, 2009
Friday, October 16, 2009

Ice-free Arctic within 20 years

A leading polar researcher has warned that the Arctic may be ice-free during the summer in 20 years' time, with most of the thinning of the ice taking place over the next 10 years. Professor Peter Wadhams of the Polar Ocean Physics Group at the University of Cambridge was speaking at a meeting which announced the results of the Catlin Arctic Survey, an expedition to the Arctic which took place earlier this year with the aim of measuring ice thickness. The polar explorers, led by Pen Hadow, found that ice floes were on average only 1.8m thick. Once the ridges between ice floes are included, the average thickness rises to 4.8m, but the results are still worrying.

"The Catlin Arctic Survey data supports the new consensus view - based on seasonal variation of ice extent and thickness, changes in temperatures, winds and especially ice composition - that the Arctic will be ice-free in summer within about 20 years, and that much of the decrease will be happening within 10 years," Wadhams told the BBC. The exact impact of an ice-free Arctic on the global climate system is unknown, but scientists know that the lack of ice may accelerate global warming, as less sunlight is reflected back into space, slow down the gulf stream, which is responsible for the relatively mild climate in North-Western Europe, and dramatically change the marine eco-system.

Earlier this year Plus collaborated with Arctic Survey Education to produce a set of teaching resources exploring the science behind the survey. The resources look at climate and sea ice models, GPS and cartography, how to predict future climate trends, and how to present statistical evidence. To find out more about maths and the Arctic, read the Plus article Maths and climate change: The melting Arctic, which is based on an interview with Peter Wadhams. You can find out more about Wadhams's latest announcement on the BBC website.

posted by Plus @ 9:00 AM


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