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October 16, 2009
Friday, October 16, 2009

Ice-free Arctic within 20 years

A leading polar researcher has warned that the Arctic may be ice-free during the summer in 20 years' time, with most of the thinning of the ice taking place over the next 10 years. Professor Peter Wadhams of the Polar Ocean Physics Group at the University of Cambridge was speaking at a meeting which announced the results of the Catlin Arctic Survey, an expedition to the Arctic which took place earlier this year with the aim of measuring ice thickness. The polar explorers, led by Pen Hadow, found that ice floes were on average only 1.8m thick. Once the ridges between ice floes are included, the average thickness rises to 4.8m, but the results are still worrying.

"The Catlin Arctic Survey data supports the new consensus view - based on seasonal variation of ice extent and thickness, changes in temperatures, winds and especially ice composition - that the Arctic will be ice-free in summer within about 20 years, and that much of the decrease will be happening within 10 years," Wadhams told the BBC. The exact impact of an ice-free Arctic on the global climate system is unknown, but scientists know that the lack of ice may accelerate global warming, as less sunlight is reflected back into space, slow down the gulf stream, which is responsible for the relatively mild climate in North-Western Europe, and dramatically change the marine eco-system.

Earlier this year Plus collaborated with Arctic Survey Education to produce a set of teaching resources exploring the science behind the survey. The resources look at climate and sea ice models, GPS and cartography, how to predict future climate trends, and how to present statistical evidence. To find out more about maths and the Arctic, read the Plus article Maths and climate change: The melting Arctic, which is based on an interview with Peter Wadhams. You can find out more about Wadhams's latest announcement on the BBC website.

posted by Plus @ 9:00 AM


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October 15, 2009
Thursday, October 15, 2009

Buses may be safer than babies, at least when it comes to swine flu. Preliminary results from an online flu survey suggest that contact with children poses one of the greatest swine flu risk factors, while the use of public transport seems surprisingly safe.

Read more!

Plus will soon bring you a package of articles on the maths behind swine flu. But first we would like to know what you think has been the best source of information about swine flu? Did the media do well reporting on the virus? What about government information? Or did you go and see your GP to find out what to do about swine flu? Please let us know by voting in this quick poll, or tell us in more detail what information you found useful, or a nuisance, by leaving a comment on this blog.

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posted by Plus @ 8:56 AM


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October 13, 2009
Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Autumn is upon us, and as every year we're anxiously pondering what winter might have in store. According to the Met Office's tentative forecast based on early indications, we're in for a milder winter than last year, with rainfall at or above average. A more definitive forecast is due out in November, but it wouldn't be surprising if the people at the Met Office were a tad nervous about putting their necks out once again. Their April forecast, stating that the UK was "odds-on for a barbecue summer", sent British tempers flaring when July turned out to be one of the wettest on record. In response to the miserable weather, and mounting criticism, the Met Office revealed in August that its earlier optimism had been based on a 65% probability of a hot dry summer, and insisted that it had explained at the time that this forecast did "not rule out the chances of seeing some heavy downpours at times". Too right, you might say, since the overall rainfall for summer 2009 turned out to be 40% above the historical average.

To be fair, the Met's barbecue debacle was down to a failure to communicate its predictions clearly, rather than predictive incompetence.... Read more!


posted by Plus @ 2:17 PM


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October 8, 2009
Thursday, October 08, 2009

The language of symmetry in Islamic Art

The monthly Maths-Art seminars at the London Knowledge Lab, that explore the connections between mathematics and art, arose out of the Bridges Conference held in London in 2006. In the next seminar, Richard Henry, an artist and teacher with a specialism in Islamic geometric tiling, will talk about practical geometry and the language of symmetry in Islamic art.

"My work draws considerable inspiration from Islamic art, its history, craft techniques and geometrical ideas," says Henry. "I have a deep interest in the mystical philosophy that underlies the art and how this influences the design of Islamic buildings, with their special sense of sublime tranquility that is often experienced. In explaining these I will present images from an extensive field study that I carried out in Iran. I will also discuss the occurrence of non-periodic tilings in medieval Iranian designs, and how these are related to the modern mathematical theory of Penrose tilings."

The methods Henry uses to create his beautiful images are based on some of the earliest geometric methods used in mathematics: "I am particularly interested in practical geometrical methods, using compass and straight edge, for pattern construction for artists and craftspeople, and have explored these in my own works in painting, print and tile-mosaic. In this talk I will illustrate some of these methods for setting out patterns."

The seminar is on Tuesday 13 October 2009, from 6-7.30pm, at the London Knowledge Lab, 23-29 Emerald St, London, WC1N 3QS (travel information & maps). Everyone is welcome and no reservation required, but an email to would be appreciated for planning purposes.

You can read more about geometry and art on Plus, including the articles on Roger Penrose and Penrose tilings.

posted by Plus @ 9:03 AM


At 3:57 AM, Blogger Speaker2animals said...

This isn't new. Jacob Bronowski commented on symmetry in Middle Eastern art back in 1973, in his acclaimed BBC series, The Ascent of Man.

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October 6, 2009
Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Getting physical with maths

There's a significant intersection between sport fandom and science geekdom, and to address it, John D. Barrow, Professor of Mathematical Sciences at the University of Cambridge, will give a free public talk on physics and sport at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. Barrow will look at some applications of physics and simple mathematics to a variety of sports, including aspects of weightlifting, rowing, throwing, jumping, drag car racing, balance sports, and track athletics. He'll also explore some of the paradoxical systems of judging used in ice skating, and the effects of latitude and air resistance on some performances.

The talk will take place on the 13th of October at 6pm in the Pippard lecture theatre at the Cavendish Laboratory, Madingley Road, Cambridge.

posted by Plus @ 9:53 AM


At 5:40 AM, Blogger westius said...

Do you know if this talk will be recorded? Would be great to listen to.

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October 6, 2009
Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Are you a winner?

If you're between 11 and 18, live in the UK and have just completed an interesting maths, science, engineering, or technology project, then why not enter the National Science and Engineering Competition?

The best entries will be invited to present their project at the Big Bang: UK Young Scientists’ and Engineers’ Fair, in Manchester in March 2010. You’ll have your own stand to show off all your hard work to over 13,000 scientists, engineers, students, parents, employers, teachers and celebrities. Plus you may even be chosen to face a VIP panel in the competition finals.

There are over £50,000 in prizes up for grabs, including cash awards and trips abroad. And entrants in the senior category could be crowned the UK Young Scientist of the Year or the UK Young Engineer of the Year.

It doesn't matter if your project has already been entered into another competition, you're still eligible, but hurry up, the closing date is October 30th!

The image above shows last year's winners Peter Hatfield (left) and Chris Jefferies (right).

posted by Plus @ 3:29 PM


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