Plus Blog
May 7, 2009
Thursday, May 07, 2009
Thank you for supporting Plus!Thank you very much to all the Plus readers who have given us such generous donations over the past few months. Thanks to your generosity, as well as new grants from the Isaac Newton Trust and the Wellcome Trust, the future of Plus is now secure until July 2010. Your donations arrived in response to a fundraising campaign we launched in December last year. At the time, the future of Plus was looking increasingly insecure, as our core funding was due to run out and the financial climate did not give much cause for optimism. As part of the Millennium Mathematics Project at the University of Cambridge, Plus is nonprofitmaking, receiving no statutory funding, and is entirely dependent on donations and grants from individuals and organisations committed to the public understanding of mathematics. But thanks to your swift response and generosity, together with the support of our other sponsors, we're able to continue to bring you the usual range of content from the fascinating world of maths, and — very importantly — Plus will remain free of charge for all its readers. Thank you very much for your support! posted by Plus @ 9:00 AM 0 Comments: 
April 24, 2009
Friday, April 24, 2009
From string theory to maths education via investment banking If you're worried that a mathematics degree might limit your career options, then there couldn't be a better person to talk to than Steve Hewson. Find out how his varied career has taken him from the lofty heights of theoretical physics, via the trading floor of a major investment bank, into the maths classroom, and has also seen him writing his very own maths book. This podcast accompanies the career interview from issue 50 of Plus. Labels: podcast posted by Plus @ 1:00 AM 4 Comments:

April 23, 2009
Thursday, April 23, 2009
On Friday the 13th, in April 2029, the asteroid Apophis will pass close enough to the Earth to be viewed with the naked eye. This will be an exciting event for stargazers, but for a short time in 2004 there was concern that this event would be cataclysmic. In December 2004 Apophis, named after the Egyptian serpent god who brings darkness to the Earth, was given a 1 in 37 chance of impacting with the Earth based on initial observations of the asteroid's orbit. Luckily, additional observations showed that the asteroid would just be a near miss in 2029, though there is still a slim chance of an impact during a pass in 2036. While you breathe a sigh of relief, some people are already making plans for how to deal with any potential armageddons in the future. One such person is David French, a PhD student in aerospace engineering at North Carolina State University, who has has determined how to stop asteroids from impacting with the Earth by attaching a massive ball and chain... Labels: Latest news posted by Plus @ 10:26 AM 0 Comments: 
April 22, 2009
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
A Gömböc for CambridgeThe University of Cambridge today received a Gömböc. It was donated by its inventors Gábor Domokos and Péter Várkonyi. But what is a Gömböc and what is the University going to do with it? A Gömböc (pronounce goemboets) is a threedimensional body with one stable and one unstable equilibrium point. If you put it down on a horizontal surface, it will start wobbling around until it has safely reached the equilibrium position, a bit like a Weeble toy. In theory, you could balance it on the unstable equilibrium point, but in practice that's really hard because the slightest nudge will make it fall over, just like a pencil that is balancing on its tip. Unlike a Wheeble, whose selfrighting ability is down to a weight in its bottom, the Gömböc is homogenous inside: its density is the same everywhere, ie there is no offcentre weight which forces it to take on a particular position. The Gömböc is also convex. The question of whether a convex and homogenous body with one unstable and one stable equilibrium exists in three dimensions was first raised by the Russian mathematician Vladimir Arnold. Mathematicians knew before that in two dimensions there are no such shapes, and they also knew that every threedimensional object must have at least two equilibria. Domokos and Várkonyi started working on the question and did not only prove that the Gömböc exists, but also built one. In fact, they're building many, from different materials, and they're selling them on the Gömböc website. The Gömböc is not only beautiful and interesting, but also sheds some light on how a certain species of turtle, with a Gömböclike shell, manages to get back on its feet after it has been toppled over. Gömböcs need to be engineered to the highest levels of precision, otherwise they won't work. The Gömböc that was today donated to the University of Cambridge can be admired at the Whipple Museum of the History of Science. Plus will interview its inventors next month and you'll be able to read the interview here soon. You can see a Gömböc doing its thing on YouTube, though the video clip is in German. posted by Plus @ 1:15 PM 0 Comments: 
April 8, 2009
Wednesday, April 08, 2009
As part of our celebration of the International Year of Astronomy 2009 we brought you the article What happened before the Big Bang?, in which John D. Barrow tells us all about the bubbly multiverse we apparantly live in. Here is the podcast of this interview, so you can listen to these strange ideas with your own ears. If this has whetted your appetite for astronomy, then why not take part in our online poll to nominate the next question we'll put to the experts. posted by Plus @ 8:51 AM 5 Comments:

April 3, 2009
Friday, April 03, 2009
Maths in the movies and moreIf you've been following Plus coverage on maths in the movies and theatre, and happen to find yourself in Edinburgh next week, then check out the Edinburgh International Science Festival's movie season and complementary talks. The themed season looks at the way mathematicians are represented in different kinds of narrative: pure fiction, fictionalised real life and documentary. The pure fiction offering is The Oxford Murders, starring John Hurt and Elijah Wood, screened on April the 7th. The Hollywood retelling of the story of maths students taking on the Las Vegas casinos is the second film, 21. It stars Kevin Spacey and is screened on the 9th of April. The season concludes on the 16th of April with the documentary N is a number, a film portrait of Paul Erdös. This screening will be followed by an audience and panel discussion. To complement the film theme, on the 14th of April Academy Award winner David Baraff of Pixar Animation Studios will be giving a talk on the role of mathematical modelling in computer animation, illustrated with clips and computer graphics. There will also be a screening of Pixar's Oscar winning tale of a French rat's ambition to be a chef, Ratatouille. David Baraff will give a special introduction to the film at Filmhouse Cinema earlier that afternoon. And if you prefer live entertainment to film, you could head for Allen Knutson's presentation on the relationship between mathematics and juggling. By mathematically analysing the process of juggling, Knutson, of Cornell University, found it was possible to discover new tricks that may never have come to light otherwise. This promises to be a most entertaining event as Allen demonstrates the principles involved using his dazzling juggling skills. The event takes place early in the evening of 14 April. posted by Plus @ 9:49 AM 1 Comments:
