Plus Blog

February 4, 2010
Thursday, February 04, 2010

Catching sight of a cockroach tends to make us behave chaotically, what with the running and screaming and throwing of shoes. But it appears that chaos might actually explain how we, and the cockroach itself, behave.

An interdisciplinary team of scientists from Germany have created a robotic cockroach that autonomously behaves in a way reminiscent of a real cockraoch. The robot independently changes gait depending on the surface it is walking on, avoids obstacles and can even extricate its leg from a hole or run away from predators. Recreating lifelike behaviour is not new, but this robot reproduces a huge range of behaviours and quickly reacts to new situations and switch between them. And the secret to its success is controlled chaos in its robotic brain.


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posted by Rachel @ 10:40 AM


At 1:13 PM, Blogger Harry van der Velde said...

This is the way nature works and robots and other devices will follow. So chaos inflicts creativity: Rondom efforts. COOL

At 6:34 PM, Blogger Quantum_Flux said...

Oh crap, I'd better hurry and patent my idea soon, it seems like everybody else in the world is getting too close to it for comfort.

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February 4, 2010
Thursday, February 04, 2010

Putting the magic back into classroom maths

Mathematics and magic may seem a strange combination, but Queen Mary's Matt Parker and Peter McOwan want to show students otherwise. They have produced many of the The Manual of Mathematical Magic, a unique kit of magical miracles, to show that the most powerful magical effects performed today have a mathematical basis.

Freely available to any school in England, the Manual exposes the secrets behind street magic, close-up and stage tricks, revealing the varied and exciting everyday uses for the mathematics powering your magic. It gives young mathematicians the chance to be creative, finding new ways to solve problems and discovering the key to the perfect magic trick. Along the journey they will also uncover the skills of a good mathematician, one with the useful employment skills you get from being good at mathematics.

Both McOwen and Parker regularly visit secondary schools to do Mathematical Magic shows for students. “Our goal is to help more students engage with Mathematics," reveals Parker, who is also involved with the More Maths Grads programme. "Magic tricks get the students excited and then we show them the mathematical principles that make the whole trick hang together. We also reveal how the same Mathematics underpins everything from medical scans to sending text messages.”

As well as The Manual of Mathematical Magic, the kit also contains a pack of cards, notebook and pencil – all of which have hidden Mathematical Magic. Teachers can use the tricks in the book in their lessons and then explain the Mathematics and its applications.

“Maths is magic. But too often school maths is a dull diet which sucks the joy out of what should be a thrilling and beautiful subject," said Paul McGarr, Deputy leader Maths Faculty at Langdon Park School where Parker gave a magical lesson to Year 10 pupils this week. "This new pack, quite literally, helps put the magic back into classroom maths. My pupils really loved it, they were engaged, excited and happy – not bad for last period of a long day! The 'wow' was audible when they saw some of the tricks demonstrated, and you could almost taste their intense curiosity to find out how it was done using maths. I would strongly recommend teachers to get hold of this pack and use it.”

For more information and to conjure up a kit for your school, visit

And for more on maths and magic you can read 1089 and all that and Maths and magic on Plus, and learn mathematical magic tricks at the Magic of Computer Science.

posted by Plus @ 2:28 PM


January 22, 2010
Friday, January 22, 2010

A complex symmetric structure known as the exceptional Lie group E8, which has so far only existed in the minds of mathematicians, seems to have turned up in real life for the first time. Physicists from the UK and Germany have conducted an experiment which involved cooling a crystal made of cobalt and niobium to near absolute zero and then applying a magnetic field. As they increased the strength of the magnetic field to a critical value, spontaneous patterns appeared in the configuration of electrons in the crystal, and these patterns carried the tell-tale signature of E8.



posted by Plus @ 11:06 AM


At 10:13 PM, Blogger BlindTurtle said...

So, the answer to life, the universe, and everything is 57.

So what is the question?

At 4:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not 57...30.

At 1:41 PM, Blogger Steve said...

Dr. Radu Coldea is deadly right. The E8 symmetry group is more fundamental than what was achieved experimentally. Alexander Zamolodchikov pointed out its possible importance in a somewhat limited context similar to what was done in Helmholtz Inst. and Oxford. However, and since almost twenty years, there was a fully developed general theory for high energy physics based on transfinite E8. This is the usual E8 plus a manifest golden mean effect in addition to the inert one. The theory is fully explained in various papers published in a journal for nonlinear dynamics, Chaos, Solitons & Fractals. I should list three papers which readers of this serious site may find very illuminating and informative. They are: High energy physics and the standard group from the exceptional Lie groups, 36, 2008, pp. 1-17. On a class of general theories for high energy particle physics, 14, 2002, pp. 649-668 and The theory of Cantorian spacetime and high energy particle physics (an informal review), 41, 2009, pp. 2635-2646. Further work on the subject was made by Ervin Goldfain, L. Marek-Crnjac, Ji-Huan He and G. Iovane as well as Tim Palmer.

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January 12, 2010
Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Maths for mums and dads

In a survey published last week 79% of parents revealed that maths homework frequently leads to conflict and arguments in the household, and a third of those surveyed admitted that they avoid helping their children with their maths homework. Over 40% of parents proved unable to work out the answer to a question that a 10-year-old might be expected to solve in a national test. (Alex thinks of a number. He adds half of the number to a quarter of the number. The result is 60. What was the number Alex first thought of?) What's more, over 50% admitted to not being able to teach their kids basic maths techniques used in primary school, including division by chunking, the grid method, or number bonds?.

The survey questioned a random sample of 1000 parents who have children aged 6 -11 years. It was commissioned by Random House Group to coincide with the publication of a new book by Plus author Rob Eastaway and Mike Askew. Maths for Mums and Dads is designed to help parents come to grips with the techniques children are now taught at school and to give parents an insight into why children make mistakes. Look out for a review in the next issue of Plus or buy now from Amazon.

Read more from Rob Eastaway on Plus...

posted by Plus @ 3:40 PM


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January 8, 2010
Friday, January 08, 2010

How long will it be until climate change brings tropical butterflies, exotic birds, or malaria-infested mosquitoes to UK shores? A team of US scientists has come a step closer to an answer by estimating the speed of climate change: the distance animal and plant species would have to migrate every year to maintain a constant temperature in their surroundings. According to the team's study, recently published in the journal Nature, the global mean of this speed is 0.42 km per year, but the study also points to important differences between types of habitat. Mountain species will be able to move slower, a predicted 0.11 km a year, since temperature varies quickly as you move up and down a mountain slope. Ecosystems from flooded grass lands and savannas, however, may have to shift by as much as 1.26 km a year to keep their temperature constant.



posted by Plus @ 12:23 PM


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December 22, 2009
Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Researchers working on the Cryogenic Dark Matter Search experiment (CDMS) received an early Christmas gift last week when their detectors spotted evidence for the existence of dark matter, the mysterious substance that is believed to make up 25% of our Universe. The detectors, sitting half a mile underground in a disused mine in northern Minnesota, detected two events that may be results of dark matter particles bouncing off other atomic nuclei. It's the first time that such events were recorded by CDMS, and while they don't provide conclusive proof that dark matter exists, the detections have caused a stir in the scientific community.



posted by Plus @ 11:54 AM


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