Plus Blog

July 27, 2010

Renowned cosmologist and mathematician John D. Barrow has turned his attention to rowing, with intriguing results. As others did before him, Barrow noticed that the force generated by a rower in a boat has two components: one drives the boat forward and one to the side. Since the sideways motion represents wasted effort, rowers should be positioned in the boat so that it is minimised. So what exactly is the ideal positioning of rowers, the ideal rig?

It's a mathematical problem and Barrow has come up with solutions to an idealised version, including a rig that never seems to have been used before in competitive rowing. Last week the New Scientist put Barrow's ideas to the test in a little paddle down the Thames ... you can read about the results on the New Scientist website.

If you'd like to read more of John D. Barrow's work, have a look at his Plus column Outer space.

July 22, 2010

After several months of hard work, particularly by computer legend Owen Smith, the new Plus site is now live!

All the Plus content you know and love is still there, and is still accessible at the same URLs. And with a few changes to the layout and navigation, we hope the new site will be easier to use. All the different types of content we produce is listed in the top bar. Every article now has a comments feature at the bottom of the page, which you can use by registering with Plus — it's free and easy to do. Registering with Plus will also enable you to create pdf documents from our content. You can register here.

We've done our best to make sure everything on the new site works, but if you do come across any problems or something you don't like, then please get in touch, either by emailing us at, or by posting a comment on the relevant page. We'd be really grateful for your feedback and we hope you like the new site!

July 22, 2010

There are lots of chances to get up close and personal with maths at the BA Science Festival in Birmingham on the 14-19 September 2010. You can hunt pi, do magic, uncover the risks of ignorance and discover how maths changed the world and won the war...

Pi Hunting Wednesday 15 September 15:00-17:00
Plus author Robin Wilson and colleagues explore the amazing history of Pi.
Location: MB518 (Aston campus) Cost: £5

75 Years of Radar Friday 17 September 10:00-12:00
Plus contributors Chris Budd, Colin Wright and Cathryn Mitchell reveal maths vital contribution to winning the war and how it still keeps us safe in the air today.
Location: MB155 (Aston campus) Cost: £5

MATHS PRESIDENTIAL LECTURE: How risky is it and how ignorant are we? Friday 17 September 16:00-17:00
Plus columnist David Spiegelhalter explains that either unpredictability or ignorance can lead to uncertainty, but often there's a messy mixture of the two. Find out how uncertainty can be quantified. Followed by a Reception sponsored by the Royal Statistical Society.
Location: MB550 (Aston campus) Cost: £3

Geometry of the Industrial Revolution Friday 17 September 18:30-19:30
Plus author Chris Sangwin argues that mathematics changed the world by making the industrial revolution possible.
Location: Thinktank (sci museum) Cost: £3

The Maths & Computing Magic Show Saturday 18 September 16:00-17:30
Peter McOwan performs amazing magic and gives you a sneak peek behind the scenes to explore the maths and computing powering the tricks.
Location: MB550 Cost: £3

The Serious Side of Scientific Trivia Sunday 19 September 16:00-17:00
Robert Matthews discusses how Curiosity-driven science and mathematics can have a major impact on society. In addition, the results of the Great British Knot Experiment will be revealed.
Location: MB518 (Aston campus) Cost: £3

ALL WEEK: Maths on the Street
Throughout the week of the British Science Festival, teams of Maths Buskers will take to the streets of Birmingham to show the general public just how amazing mathematics can be!
Location: Various Cost: Free

And you can have a go yourself at the FunMaths Roadshow which will be running during the Family Weekend.

These events are part of the British Science Festival in Birmingham from 14-19 September 2010. Details of all events are available online and tickets can be booked online or by calling 020 7019 4947.

July 20, 2010

Watching cyclists struggle through the Tour de France from our armchairs (or should it be deckchairs?) is great fun, but as Burkard Polster and Marty Ross have discovered, it would be even more fun if the cyclists cycled in circles.

If you draw a closed convex loop on the ground and cycle so that your back wheel follows the loop, your front wheel will trace out a larger loop. It turns out that the area in between the two loops is always the same, regardless of the shapes and sizes of the two loops: if the length between the two wheel hubs of your bike is L, then the area between the loops is always π L2. Go to the The Age Education Resource Centre to find out why...

July 13, 2010

Cows kill 20 Americans every year. But you can halve your chance of dying of a heart attack by drinking 8 bottles of wine a week. Laugh in the face of death at the new comedy show “Your Days Are Numbered – the maths of death”, either at the Edinburgh Fringe (Assembly@George Street, 5-30th August) or at the last London previews on July 27th (2.30 and 7.30 pm) at the Cockpit Theatre .

Stand up mathematician Matt Parker (winner of the audience award, FameLab 2009, and warm up act for last year’s RI Christmas lectures) and comedian Timandra Harkness (“a deadly wit” – the Scotsman) will cut through newspaper headlines like “Junk Food kills 40,000” and give you the real lowdown on your odds of dying and how you can lengthen them. With funding from the Wellcome Trust, they're not allowed to just make stuff up.

You have a 0.000043% chance of dying during this show, but at least you will die laughing.

July 13, 2010

Need something to read while drinking your coffee?

Caroline Davis from the Maths Promotion Unit told us that today's Guardian Education Supplement is a bumper issue for maths: explaining how maths is taking over the streets, an analysis of why applications for STEM subjects is still and issue, and how Recursive Binary Sequences of Differences can help you pour the perfect cup of coffee….

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