Plus Blog

July 27, 2011
Marcus du Sautoy in football kit

Marcus du Sautoy finds maths in unusual places.

Whatever you're planning to do tonight, cancel it! Because tonight at 9pm on BBC Two it's the first episode of Marcus du Sautoy's new series The Code. It's a three-part series about maths in the world around us, exploring anything from honeycombs to flocks of birds, nautilus shells to planetary motion.

And it's not just about sitting on the couch and marvelling — oh no! The Code is also a treasure hunt with clues being revealed in each episode, in a series of online games and on the blog. Getting all the clues right may lead you to a valuable prize hidden somewhere in the UK. The hunt has already started with a challenge to find pictures of primes in the real world.

Ian Short, the Open University academic consultant for the series (and Plus author), says: "The series is packed with mathematical curiosities. One of my favourites is a bubble dodecahedron, which you can already see here." And there are plenty more clips and game on the series website.

To warm up for the challenge you can also read Marcus du Sautoy's Plus articles:

Happy code breaking!

July 27, 2011

Samuel Hansen, the mind behind the mathematical podcasts Combinations and Permutations and Strongly Connected Components from ACMEScience and co-host of the Math/Maths podcast with Peter Rowlett, has a plan. He wants to create a new series of podcasts, Relatively Prime, featuring stories from the world of mathematics as told by the protagonists themselves.


Samuel promises to tell the weird and unexpected stories in this series, from slime mould recreating the Tokyo subway network to the good old fashioned fights between Newton and Leibniz. He told us about two of his favourite stories: how crickets led us to a better understanding of Kevin Bacon...

"In the late 90s Duncan Watts was at Cornell University studying under Steven Strogatz and was having a lot of problems figuring out what to write his dissertation on, he had tried a few problems already and none had stuck. So Strogatz suggested that Watts help him with some of his work with coupled oscillator problems, specifically as it applied to cricket chirp synchronization. One day they were in a field trying to get a handle on how crickets start to sync, if it is one that starts it or multiple starting points that start to come together like unmatched metronomes on a moving plank. Watts started to think of how the crickets were connected (who could hear whom) and how the connections in this system could change the behavoir of the crickets. Then all of a sudden he told Strogatz about the common idea that everyone is only 6 handshakes away from everyone else. It was only a short time after that that they published the first mathematical model of a small world social network. Fireflies to the 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon in only one connection."

and Tim Gower's Polymath project...

"Tim Gowers asked one of the most intriguing questions ever on his blog, can people do a massively collaborative mathematical proof. He then posed a question called the Density Hales Jewett problem and asked his readers to try to prove it collaboratively in the comments section of the blog post. 2 weeks later somewhere around 39 people had worked together to get an even deeper result than the one Gowers had originally posed and the experiment was a success. They ended up publishing a paper under the name DHJ Polymath."

But to tell these stories Samuel needs your help. He says he wants to approach the series as a story teller, not as an educator. And for this reason it is important that he interviews the protagonists of the stories face to face so that he can get the inside story. He also wants to create a series that anyone will enjoy regardless of how they feel about maths. "We seem to have gotten to a point that it is cooler to not be able to do mathematics and it is my belief that this is mostly down to a matter of perception," he says. Samuel hopes to change those perceptions by telling fascinating stories in a way that is a pleasure to listen to: "I want to layer in voices and sound and music and make Relatively Prime a joy to listen to no matter your feelings about mathematics."

So if you are intrigued by Samuel's tales from mathematics then you can support the project by visiting his Kickstarter page.

And you can read more about crickets, Kevin Bacon and the science of sync in Steven Strogatz's book, Sync: the emerging science of spontaneous order, reviewed on Plus. And you can join the forces of the Polymath at The polymath blog.

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July 26, 2011
IMO logo

The UK has won two gold, one silver and two bronze medals at this year's International Mathematical Olympiad! The team came 17th out of 101 participating countries, and also received one honourable mention. It has been fifteen years since the UK team was last awarded two gold medals.

The IMO took place from 13th – 24th July in Amsterdam and the UK team entry was organised by the UK Mathematics Trust. The team that made us all proud consisted of:

  • James Aaronson of St Paul's School (gold medal)
  • Andrew Carlotti of Sir Roger Manwood’s School (gold medal)
  • Ben Elliott of Godalming College (silver medal)
  • Adam Goucher of Netherthorpe School (bronze medal)
  • Joshua Lam of The Leys School (honourable mention)
  • Jordan Millar of Regent House School (bronze medal)


If you or someone you know would like to be involved in future olympiads you can find more information at the British Mathematical Olympiad website and the European Girls' Mathematical Olympiad website.

July 21, 2011
Paul Davies

Paul Davies

In our Science fiction, science fact project you told us that you'd like to know what time is. So we've gone and talked to an expert — Paul Davies, physicist, writer and director of BEYOND: Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science — and we'll publish his response shortly.

Meanwhile, we're opening our poll for the second round, to see which question you'd like to have answered next. So get voting!

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July 20, 2011

Mathematics is the language of the sciences, and the 2011 British Science Festival will be speaking volumes about how exciting maths can be. From events exploring the impact of maths on ground breaking scientific ideas to the role of statistics in professional sports, there's enough to bring out the mathlete in everyone.

Throughout history, mathematical ideas have evolved to become integral parts of science and culture. Join the New patterns — new perspectives event on the 15th September to discover how maths has shaped some of the 20th century's most important scientific ideas. Discover how non-Euclidean geometries revolutionised our ideas about space, played a key role in the birth of chaos theory and are still delivering fresh insights today.


Maths makes waves at the British Science Festival. Image: Roger McLassus.

At Maths makes waves on the 13th September you can discover the wonderful world of wave mathematics. Find out how Schrödinger's wave equation revolutionised modern science by forming a keystone of quantum mechanics, as well as the myriad wave-forms that surround us every day, from atmospheric waves to the solitary waves promising to revolutionise modern communications.

In today's technological world we are swimming in a sea of data, but how can we harness this to better understand our surroundings? In the world of sports, managers and sportspeople alike increasingly regard statistics as superior to conventional sports wisdom. At Vital statistics: sport's key to successful decision-making on the 10th September you can join researchers to find out how football, rugby, cricket and other sports are using statistical data to put them at the top of their game.

Exhibitions running throughout the festival will educate and enchant about all maths has to offer. The getstats campaign is all about empowering people to use numbers well to inform the choices we make every day, while The sight and sound of the primes will use the pseudo random nature of prime number sequences to control captivating moving images.

The British Science Festival will take place in Bradford from 10th-15th September, giving members of the public the chance to explore the latest in science, technology and engineering, and meet researchers face-to-face.

Spaces for some events are limited, so book in to hear these exciting talks first hand or call 0207 019 4947.

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July 20, 2011
High jump

Has your school been using our sister site Maths and Sport: Countdown to the Games? If yes, your commitment could earn you a reward from London 2012. You will get a plaque and certificate, and the right to use the London 2012 education logo. You'll also be given access to exclusive rewards like tours of the Olympic Park, visits from athletes, and priority access to tickets to the Games through the London 2012 Ticketshare initiative! All you have to do is complete the online application form for the Get Set network — the reward and recognition scheme for Get Set, the official London 2012 education programme.

To find out more, go to Maths and Sport: Countdown to the Games.

Maths and Sport: Countdown to the Games is an exciting project to celebrate London 2012, run by the Millennium Mathematics Project, of which Plus is a part. We're developing free online mathematical articles and activities exploring maths and science through the Olympic and Paralympic Games, aimed at a wide audience from school students and their teachers to members of the public. Find all our current articles and activities here and join our mailing list to receive email updates on new content as it appears.

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