Plus Blog

December 3, 2009
Thursday, December 03, 2009

Infectious diseases hardly ever disappear from the headlines. If it's not the disease itself that hits the news, then it's the vaccines with their potential side effects. It can be hard to tell the difference between scare mongering and responsible reporting, because media coverage rarely provides a look behind the scenes. How do scientists reach the conclusions they do? How do they predict how a particular disease will spread, and whether it is likely to mutate into a more dangerous strand? And how do they assess the impact of an intervention like vaccination, and make sure that a vaccine is safe?

Two answer these questions, we have put together a package of five articles, a podcast, and a classroom activity.


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posted by Plus @ 12:50 PM


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December 3, 2009
Thursday, December 03, 2009

Vaccination is an emotive business. The furore around the MMR vaccine and autism has shown that vaccination health scares can cause considerable damage: stop vaccinating, and epidemics are sure to follow. But how do scientists decide whether a vaccine and a vaccination strategy are effective and safe? We talk to Paddy Farrington, Professor of Statistics at the Open University. You can also read the accompanying article.

Listen to the podcast.

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posted by Plus @ 12:43 PM


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November 25, 2009
Wednesday, November 25, 2009

An amateur fractal programmer has discovered a new 3D version of the Mandelbrot set. Daniel White's new creation is based on similar mathematics as the original 2D Mandelbrot set, but its infinite intricacy extends into all three dimensions, revealing fractal worlds of amazing complexity and beauty at every level of magnification.



posted by Plus @ 9:45 AM


At 12:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I want this as screensaver,awesome

At 2:27 PM, Blogger David Makin said...

Those interested in more about the Mandelbulb and the search for the "true 3D" Mandelbrot including an almost complete history of the last couple of years search may wish to look here

At 10:30 AM, Blogger miner49er said...

What's the explanation for the fracvtal nature of the mandelbrot set? Is it an anomoly in the number system? Is it basically an error?

I have been fascinated by fractals for 20 years but never really thought about _why_ they (mandelbrot/escape-time) exist.

I wonder if discovering why they exist at all, may lead to a 'better' 3D analog?

At 7:06 AM, Blogger Djeimz said...

Interesting article. Interesting pictures.

However, I'm wondering if there isn't a typo in the formula given. If it is a direct generalization of complex multiplication using Euler angles, the z-component should be:
-sin(n phi)
and not:
-sin(n theta)
Am I wrong?


At 10:25 AM, Anonymous The Plus Team said...

Thanks Djeimz, you're right and it's been corrected!

At 12:12 AM, Blogger Paolo Bonzini said...

It is possible to describe this fractal also using quaternions. This is interesting in that it removes the need to define a special, non-standard exponentiation function.

See [PDF] (thanks to the people on and for proofreading!)

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November 19, 2009
Thursday, November 19, 2009

LHC set for restart

After over a year of repair works the Large Hadron Collider at CERN may be restarted within the next few days. Scientists will gently prod the giant particle collider back into action, starting by circulating beams of protons at low energies and generating low energy collisions, before slowly firing it up to its full power. It is hoped that eventually the high energy collisions will generate conditions similar to those right after the Big Bang and shed light on some of the biggest mysteries of the Universe.

To remind yourself of what the LHC is all about, read the Plus articles:

Or, for a quick fix, here's the LHC rap:

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November 18, 2009
Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Happy 150th birthday to the Riemann Hypothesis - the most famous unsolved problem in mathematics

It has been 150 years since the mathematician Bernhard Riemann published the conjecture which is now one of the most important unsolved problems in mathematics. The Riemann hypothesis encapsulates humankind's attempt to understand the mysteries of the primes: why there is no apparent pattern in the way the primes are distributed on the number line. The hypothesis is one of the Clay Mathematics Institute's Millennium Prize Problems — anyone who proves (or disproves) it will receive one million dollars.

If you'd like to have a go at solving the Riemann hypothesis yourself, then learn more about it in the Plus articles A whirlpool of numbers, The prime number lottery, and The music of the primes. To find out more about the Clay Institute Millennium Prize Problems, read How maths can make you rich and famous, Part I and Part II.

posted by Plus @ 11:38 AM


At 4:26 AM, Blogger westius said...

you'll like this cartoon from

I just finished reading 'The Music of the Primes' - great book, would highly recommend it.

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November 12, 2009
Thursday, November 12, 2009

Maths in a minute - combinatorics

And while we're on the topic of probability, let's answer one of those important mathematical question: how likely are you to win the lottery?

In the UK lottery you have to choose 6 numbers out of 49, and for a chance at the jackpot you need all of your 6 numbers to come up in the main draw. So the question is really how many possible combinations of 6 numbers can be drawn out of 49? There are 49 possibilities for the first number, 48 for the second, and so on to 44 possibilities for the sixth number, so there are 49 x 48 x 47 x 46 x 45 x 44 = 10068347520 ways of choosing those six numbers... in that order. But we don't care which order our numbers are picked, and the number of different ways of picking 6 numbers are 6 x 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 = 6! = 720. Therefore our six numbers are one of 49 x 48 x 47 x 46 x 45 x 44 / 6! = 13983816 so we have about a one in 14 million chance of hitting the jackpot. Hmmm...

But on a brighter note, we have just discovered a very useful mathematical fact: the number of combinations of size k (sets of objects in which order doesn't matter) from a larger set of size n is n! / (n-k)! / k!.

This sort of argument lies at the heart of combinatorics, the mathematics of counting. It might not help you win lotto, but it might keep you healthy. It is used to understand how viruses such as influenza reproduce and mutate, by assessing the chances of creating viable viruses from random recombination of genetic segments.

You can read more on combinatorics, including money (lotto), love (well kissing frogs) and fun (juggling and rubiks cubes) on Plus.

posted by Plus @ 1:18 PM