Plus Blog

May 7, 2009
Thursday, May 07, 2009

Listen to Plus podcasts and win a £50 book voucher!

If you have listened to one or more of our podcasts, then please tell us what you think about them by completing our online survey. It only takes five minutes, and you'll be entered into a prize draw to win a £50 book voucher — it doesn't matter where in the world you are! Your opinion will help us assess how well we've done on our podcasts so far, to improve future podcasts, and also to secure the funding we need to continue producing them.

Thanks very much for your help!

posted by Plus @ 11:24 AM


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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.

Hear more!


posted by Plus @ 1:00 AM


At 1:00 AM, Blogger westius said...

I love that Steve chose, at the age of 8, to do a PhD in general relativity!

At the age of 8, I wanted to play cricket for Australia, or perhaps climb that cool tree at the back of our yard....

At 10:58 PM, Anonymous Alex said...

Hello, i was just wondering if you need a math credit to become an early childhood educator, and i also would like to know what other things could i become with a math credit because i need to decide now, its my last year of high school. Please help!!! THANKS!

At 9:10 AM, Blogger Plus said...

This post has been removed by the author.

At 9:12 AM, Blogger Plus said...

To gain a qualification for teaching primary in the UK, you need a grade C or above for your GCSE maths. For more information see the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) website.

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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...



posted by Plus @ 10:26 AM


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April 22, 2009
Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Gömböc for Cambridge

The 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 three-dimensional 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 self-righting ability is down to a weight in its bottom, the Gömböc is homogenous inside: its density is the same everywhere, ie there is no off-centre 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 three-dimensional 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 Gömböc-like 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


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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.

Listen to the podcast.

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.

Labels: ,

posted by Plus @ 8:51 AM


At 3:00 PM, Blogger Erika said...

Hello, I do not know if it is possible to ask to John D. Barrow about the possibility of having in each bubble a different collection of laws of physics. Because if it is the case maybe they will have different elements and in that way will need different characteristics of expansion to be able to develop a sort of live, even a kind of civilization, on them.

Thank You.
Erika Roldan.
Guanajuato, México.

At 3:08 PM, Blogger Erika said...

Hello, I will like to know if it is possible to ask to John D. Barrow if each of the bubbles can have its own laws of physics, without having to be the same as ours. Because if it is the case, it could be that the elements, or the equivalent of the elements in other bubbles, are different from the ones that we have. In which case the time to develop a sort of live of civilizations would depend of the characteristics of each bubble.

And I will like also to ask what kind of mathematical structure is used in modeling the multivers theory.

Thank You.
From:Erika Roldán.
Guanajuato, México.

At 9:02 AM, Anonymous The Plus Team said...

Dear Erika,

We asked Professor Barrow and here is his reply:

"Indeed, we know that in some theories of fundamental physics there is the possibility that important aspects of physics, like the strengths of basic forces or the masses of elementary particles, will fall out differently in the
different regions we have called 'bubbles'. Other local features, like the level of non-uniformity in the material density or the balance between matter and antimatter may also be different.

At present we don't believe there can exist atom-based life like ours except where things are very close to what we
observe in our 'bubble'.

String theory also allows the number of large dimensions of space to be different from one bubble to another. But we know that with more than three large space dimensions no atoms or planets or stars can exist. The attractive forces of nature fall off too rapidly with distance to hold things together. For example, in an N dimensional space the familiar 'inverse square' laws of gravity and electromagnetism become inverse (N-1) laws."

At 12:20 AM, Blogger unRheal said...

Wouldn't we be seeing the light from at least *some* of these other bubbles - not sure how likely it'd be that most of them don't give off any sort of "light" that we can detect, but it sounded like "foam" means sort of lots and lots of bubbles - surely some would...(?)
Also aside note - the (voice, mostly) volume was too low, I had to turn it up so high that when something else made a sound it blasted out! (ended up saving it and amplifying & compressing it, then finished playing it)

At 7:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Listening to the podcast some questions arose:

Isn't the foam explanation just another fairytale story similar to the concept of god or the existence of super big membranes (from string theory)? It does not seem to answer the question of the existence just outlines a possible way of thinking about it. Isn't it true that in essence he said that the "foam" exists eternally (according to the existing model) and that there is some eternal force/process in it that makes it to form bubbles of universes? The question remains where this energy and foam would come from? Some may say it randomly comes from NOTHING and then annihilates returning to NOTHING. Sometimes (randomly) the symmetry of the process is broken and then SOMETHING comes to existence for a while and that creates EVERYTHING else. The question then is what hellish IMPULSE would make the NOTHING to express itself as SOMETHING? Could that be a mindless GOD?

Kind Regard
George Spilkov
P.S. I would appreciate if John D. Barrow would comment on that. Thank you.

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April 3, 2009
Friday, April 03, 2009

Maths in the movies and more

If 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


At 6:02 PM, Anonymous Peter Morgan said...

For the juggling, Allen Knutson has this nice PDF on juggling,, which starts out easy, gradually getting to be harder and harder math. It gives a little insight into how a mathematician approaches things.

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