Plus Blog

April 30, 2008
Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Life is good for only two things, both mathematical

Siméon-Denis Poisson (born 21 June 1781 Pithiviers, France; died 25 April 1840 Sceaux, France) was a French mathematician and physicist who once stated:

"Life is good for only two things, discovering mathematics and teaching mathematics."

Poisson was a student of Laplace and Lagrange and achieved highly at a young age, writing a memoir on finite differences at 18 and graduating at 19 without needing to take the final examination. He then moved immediately to the position of repetiteur at Ecole Polytechnique, which was quite an achievement as most top mathematicians had to serve in the provinces before getting a post in Paris.

In 1802, Poisson was named deputy professor and in 1806 he was appointed to the professorship that had been vacated by none other than Fourier. During this period, he studied ordinary and partial differential equations, and in particular their application to physical problems such as the pendulum and the theory of sound.

In 1808, Poisson became an astronomer at Bureau des Longitudes and in 1809 he added the chair of mechanics in Faculte des Sciences to his impressive list of appointments. In 1808 and 1809 Poisson published three important papers, the first investigating mathematical problems raised by Laplace and Lagrange about perturbations of the planets, and the others incorporating developments in Lagrange's method of variation of arbitrary constants which had been inspired by the first of Poisson's three papers. In addition, he published a new edition of Clairaut's Theorie de la figure de la terre, which had first been published in 1743 and confirmed the Newton-Huygens belief that the Earth was flattened at the poles.

In 1811, Poisson won a "Grand Prix" on electricity studies and in 1813 his results regarding the potential in the interior of attracting masses found application in electrostatics. Papers followed on the velocity of sound in gasses, on the propagation of heat, and on elastic vibrations.

It was in his 1837 work Recherches sur la probabilite des jugements en matière criminelle et matière civile that the Poisson probability distribution first appears. This distribution describes the probability that a random event will occur in a time interval when the probability of the event occurring is very small and the number of trials very large.

He published between 300 and 400 mathematical works and his name is associated to a wide variety of ideas including Poisson's integral, Poisson's equation in potential theory, Poisson brackets in differential equations, Poisson's ratio in elasticity, and Poisson's constant in electricity. However, he was not highly regarded by other French mathematicians, with his reputation much higher among foreign mathematicians than his country-folk.

For more on Poisson, see his MacTutor biography. For more information on Poisson distributions and probability, see the Plus articles Blast it like Beckham, and On the ball.

posted by westius @ 1:36 PM


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April 29, 2008
Tuesday, April 29, 2008

$8m to support mathematical research from quantum physics to biology

An $8 million grant has been awarded to a Cambridge mathematician to support his study of mathematical models relevant to research in the life sciences, engineering and nanotechnology.

Peter Markowich, Professor of Applied Mathematics in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, was awarded the funding by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST).

The award was made through KAUST's global research partnership (GRP), which operated for the first time this year. The partnership aims to bring together researchers from across the globe to work on challenging scientific and technological problems which have particular relevance to Saudi Arabia and the region.

KAUST’s funding will help further Professor Markowich's work with the Applied Partial Differential Equations Research Group (APDE), allowing it to take on five new postdoctoral researchers and to expand into a new centre.

Professor Markowich said: "This award is a great honour and it gives a wonderful opportunity to build up my research group and strengthen the field of analysis and numerics of applied partial differential equations at DAMTP."

"I came to Cambridge University not even a year ago, so there is no way I could imagine a better start! It is also very exciting to be part of the endeavour of creating a new high level research institution."

"The biggest part of the funding will go into hiring postdoctoral researchers at DAMTP, working on differential equation models in such diverse areas as quantum physics and biophysical processes."

Their research project, Applied and Computational Differential Equations in Life Sciences, Nanoscience and Engineering, will focus on applications of differential equations, those equations which have functions as solutions, and involve derivatives, or rates of change, of the solution, often in intricate nonlinear ways.

Such equations can be formulated to model situations that arise in a number of disciplines. Whilst physics and engineering yield numerous classical examples, they can also be applied in more unexpected situations. Some of the work currently taking place at APDE involves their use in restoring medieval wall frescoes, for example.

KAUST investigator awards will fund research for five years and have also been made in support of a range of fields other than applied mathematics, including work on immunisation, water desalination, renewable and sustainable energy sources and environmentally friendly construction materials.

Each of the awardees, known as KAUST Investigators, will conduct research at their own institutions and, partly, on the KAUST campus, which will open in September 2009. The university is being built as an international, graduate-level research institute, and intends to become a major contributor to global research.

This article is adapted from material from the University of Cambridge.

posted by westius @ 10:16 AM


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April 29, 2008
Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sexy maths

Hollywood has finally figured out what Plus has known for a long time: that maths is sexy.

Actor John Hurt believes maths has become "sexy". Hurt stars as a maths professor in the new film The Oxford Murders. In the film, Hurt and a graduate student played by Elijah Wood discover a series of murders linked by mathematical symbols.

Maths in the movies is not a new phenomena, with such films as Pi, Cube and A Beautiful Mind featuring mathematical concepts or mathematicians as characters. More recent films include this year's 21, in which Kevin Spacey plays a mathematics professor.

Hurt told the BBC World Service that: "I think there is something that has brought maths to the fore. I think probably because we live in a world with so many lies, and so much lack of truth, that it has become quite sexy to think of the one thing we have which is the only language that is truthful. There's no way of disproving that two plus two equals four, and therefore, take that to the ultimate, much more complicated areas, and you're dealing with something which is truthful."

You can read more about maths in the movies in the Plus articles:

posted by westius @ 10:22 AM


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April 24, 2008
Thursday, April 24, 2008

Solving London's Transport Problem

A new mathematical contest has just been announced by mathematical problem solving company eBourbaki. eBourbaki's mission is to solve the world's mathematical problems using contests to inspire innovation and creativity. They seek to help companies and organisations become more effective by facilitating creative mathematical solutions to optimisation problems by:

  • addressing some of today's greatest public-goods challenges,
  • encouraging mathematical talent by directing it towards relevant applied modelling problems,
  • improving mathematics engagement and education by working with teachers and professors to integrate eBourbaki contests into academic curricula,
  • and collaborating with clients to formulate soluble problems and then to interpret the solutions that grow out of contests for implementation.

The new contest is entitled Bicycles in London. London faces serious transportation challenges. With congestion charges on the rise and increased awareness of the environmental impact of many forms of commuting, cities are turning to bicycle stations to ease traffic, reduce pollution, improve parking, and enhance a green-friendly image. Last summer, Paris joined the ranks, instituting a city-wide network of high-tech low-cost rental bicycle stations. The contest asks the question: if London were to embrace this concept, how would it best go about doing so? Where should the bike stations go? How many bikes at each station?

The contest will run May 5-12 2008 and full contest details, including a detailed problem statement, will be available on the website at the start of the contest. Winning solutions will be presented to the Mayor of London with the hope that students' recommendations will guide the way to helping London become a more liveable environment. The winning team will receive a prize of £1000.

The competition is open to UK students only, and students of mathematics, computer science and engineering are encouraged to enter. Participation requires contestants to register with the eBourbaki. Stay tuned to the website for contest rules and guidelines.

posted by westius @ 2:27 PM


At 6:33 PM, Anonymous dedy said...

nice article, thanks

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April 23, 2008
Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A mathematician from the University of East Anglia has turned his gaze to the stars to try and answer one of humankind's oldest questions — are we alone in the Universe? And the unfortunate answer is, well, probably.



posted by Plus @ 5:40 PM


At 9:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

its true?

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April 18, 2008
Friday, April 18, 2008

Edward Lorenz, American mathematician and meteorologist, died in his Cambridge Massachusetts home on April 16 aged 90. Lorenz was the "father of chaos theory" and discovered the Lorenz attractor that often occurs in chaotic systems.



posted by westius @ 4:27 PM


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