Plus Blog

August 17, 2011
Ri Masterclass

Dr Katie Steckles delivering the Playing with Squares masterclass in Manchester.

Would you like to present engaging mathematics sessions to young people?

The Royal Institution of Great Britain (Ri) is offering development sessions for new Ri mathematics masterclass speakers as part of the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the programme. The network stretches from Aberdeen to Truro, including Jersey and Northern Ireland, and is ever-expanding.

The Ri welcomes enquiries from teachers, researchers, postgraduate students, professionals from industry or any other person with interest in mathematics and in communicating it. Places are limited but they will do their best to accommodate all requests at this or future sessions.

The next development session is in Cambridge, on 20th October 2011. Details about the masterclasses can be found on the Ri website.

If you like to know more about the project or the session please contact Sara Santos on or call 020 7670 2915.

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August 3, 2011

If you live in or near Cambridge, you've got the chance to see a genuine World War II Enigma machine in action and watch the movie Enigma starring Kate Winslet and Dougray Scott afterwards!

On Monday the 5th of September at the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse cinema, James Grime, from our sister project Enigma, will demonstrate one of the miraculous code breaking machines and talk about its history. This is followed by a screening of the movie and an informal Q&A session in the cinema bar. The only fee is the cinema ticket.

The event is part of SciScreen, a new film festival at the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse organised by the British Science Association Cambridgeshire branch. The aim of SciScreen is to raise public awareness for the real science behind the science portrayed in cinema. In each SciScreen session experts explain the science from the film in a short talk before curtain-up, and after the film everyone is invited to the Arts Picturehouse bar for a drink and informal discussion.

For more information and updates visit the SciScreen Facebook page.

To find out more about the Enigma machine, read Exploring the Enigma or listen to our Enigma podcast.

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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