Plus Blog

March 18, 2011

Our cities are filled with buildings, roads, cars, buses, trains, bikes, parks and gardens. They are crisscrossed with power, water, sewage and transport systems. They are built by engineers, architects, planners, technologists, doctors, designers and artists. Our cities are shaped by our environment, our society and our culture. And each and every part is built on mathematics.

You can join Plus author and Charles Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, Marcus du Sautoy, on a mathematical adventure in the city. Marcus and his team of mathemagicians are constructing walking tours of the city — but they need your help!

They are running a competition asking you to shine a mathematical spotlight on your city — it might be a piece of interesting architecture, a mathematical sculpture or the maths behind something more mundane, such as traffic lights — they want to hear from you! The competition opens on 4 April 2011 and closes 3 May 2011.

Winning entries will become part of a virtual mathscape of cities around the world and will help Marcus and his team develop their walking tours. And of course — you can win great prizes including subscriptions to Nature and becoming part of mathematical history by naming a mathematical object!

Hmmm... you could write about the maths behind architecture, engineering or traffic jams... there are so many possibilities! Where do you see the maths in your city?

For further information visit the Maths in the City site and follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

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March 15, 2011
The London velodrome

The London Velodrome.

With 500 days to go everyone here at the MMP is getting very excited about the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. In July 2012 medals will be won, records broken and stories of triumph and tragedy will be told — and here at Plus we are looking forward to revealing the mathematics behind them.

The first of the 2012 Olympic venues has now been completed and in our latest news story, Leaning into 2012, you can find out the secret behind the shape of the track. And you can find out more about the maths behind the Olympics from Plus and the rest of the MMP at our new project Maths and Sport: Countdown to the Games.

"The Maths and Sport project will offer a new and deeper perspective for everyone about what is going on during the sporting events at the London Games," says John Barrow, Director of the MMP and author of our Outer space column. "Simple maths can be used to help show how Usain Bolt can run faster, find better ways to rig rowing eights or understand the statistics of scoring systems and drug testing."

So, whether you're an athlete on the track or just the armchair, it's time to start your training now!

You can read more about maths and sport in our Plus teacher package and find lots more activities and resources on Maths and Sport: Countdown to the Games.

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March 14, 2011

Today is Pi day - it's March 14th, written as 3/14 in the US - and to celebrate we bring you some of our favourite articles about our favourite number:

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March 11, 2011

A massive earthquake hit Japan earlier today, registering 8.9 on the Richter scale and the largest ever recorded for Japan. The tsunami triggered by the quake brought a 10m high wall of water in northern Japan, and other countries are now waiting for it to hit their shores.

But what causes earthquakes and tsunamis and what can we do to protect ourselves from their destructive power? Michael McIntyre explains how earthquakes happen and how the oceans respond in his article Tsunami. We also report on how buildings can be designed to limit earthquake damage in Quake-proof, a news story from 2005. And Shane Latchman explores how we can predict the damage caused by these events in his article Modelling catastrophes.

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February 21, 2011

John D. Barrow is continuing his public lecture tour to promote his new Book of Universes. You can catch him at Gresham College in London on March 1st (admission free) and at the Bath Literary Festival on February 27th (admission £7, concession £6). Clicking on the links will take you to the relevant websites with more information on times and places.

Barrow will tell a story that revolves around a single extraordinary fact: that Albert Einstein's famous theory of relativity describes a series of entire universes. Not many solutions to Einstein's tantalising universe equations have ever been found, but those that have are all remarkable. Some describe universes that expand in size, while others contract. Some rotate like a top, while others are chaotically unpredictable. Some are perfectly smooth, while others are lumpy. Some permit time travel into the past. Only a few allow life to evolve within them; the rest, if they exist, remain unknown and unknowable to conscious minds.

You'll encounter universes where the laws of physics can change from time to time and from one region to another, universes that have extra hidden dimensions of space and time, universes that are eternal, universes that live inside black holes, universes that end without warning, colliding universes, inflationary universes, and universes that come into being from something else – or from nothing at all. Gradually, we are introduced to the latest and the best descriptions of the Universe as we understand it today, together with the concept of the multiverse – the universe of all possible universes – that modern theories of physics lead us to contemplate.

If you're in London, you can actually see Barrow twice on the same day, as on March 1st he's giving another free lecture at Gresham College, called Doing business in interstellar space. In this lecture Barrow imagines interstellar trade at speeds close to the speed of light. It would have to incorporate the insights of Einstein's special theory of relativity, which teaches us that clocks on board a spaceship moving at high velocity will ensure time at different rates relative to clocks at the point of departure. This means that time travel into the future is possible. Which time-keeping should we use? What would happen to economics if time-travel to the past was also possible?

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February 21, 2011

The Millennium Mathematics Project (of which Plus is a part) has just launched the Maths and Sport: Countdown to the Games website at

Maths and Sport: Countdown to the Games is an exciting new project to celebrate London 2012. We're developing free online mathematical articles and activities exploring maths and science through the Olympic and Paralympic Games, aimed at a wide audience from school students and their teachers to members of the public. Find all our current articles and activities here and join our mailing list to receive email updates on new content as it appears.

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