Plus Blog

December 7, 2011

There are nearly 7 billion of us now, but how many will there be by Christmas 2111? Our sister site NRICH has a package on the fascinating mathematics that describes the changes in populations of living creatures — from bees to birds and complete with questions and answers.

Have a look at the NRICH population dynamics collection!

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December 6, 2011
Is maths real or imagined?

We love producing posters and postcards celebrating the beauty and importance of maths. And now we can unveil our new set of postcards promoting our project: Mathematics and the nature of reality! We'll be handing them out at MMP lectures and workshops, and New Scientist readers might be lucky enough to find one of the new postcards in the Christmas issue.

We're still dealing with a large backlog of requests (more than 1000 in the first 48 hours!) for our Constructing our lives posters, but we're so excited we just can't keep the new postcards to ourselves. Email or tweet us and we'll send a set of these beautiful postcards out to the first twenty people who get in touch.

And in the meantime, why not read some of the stories behind the postcards?

The image on the "what is infinity" postcard was created by FAVIO.

How long will the future last?
What is infinity?

Does it pay to be nice?
How many universes are there?

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December 5, 2011

It's Cyber Monday and apparently this lunchtime we will all be doing our Christmas shopping online. In case you are hunting for presents today here are some of our favourite maths books.

The hidden mathematics of sport

"The hidden mathematics of sport" by Rob Eastaway and John Haigh

Clearly and interestingly written, humorous and varied, requiring only a minimal familiarity with math, The hidden mathematics of sport is a pure pleasure to read. It contains an impressive array of mathematical topics, much broader and more unusual than standard findings about the statistics of sports or the equations governing the motion of projectiles.

The big questions: Mathematics

"The big questions: Mathematics" by Tony Crilly

With twenty skillfully written essays Tony Crilly paints a broad-stroke picture of modern mathematics, focusing on some of the most exciting topics. This book is intended for people whose acquaintance with mathematics is limited to their high school years, but who want to know "what all this fuss is about". It is ideal for those who have heard that mathematicians talk about imaginary numbers and unbreakable codes, and want to know how much of it, if any, is true.

Alex's adventures in numberland

"Alex's adventures in numberland" by Alex Bellos

This is an excellently researched and well-written book. It distinguishes itself from the body of popular science books by interspersing and motivating the mathematics it contains using stories, interviews and conversations with a variety of people, ranging from mathematicians and linguists to mystics. The result is a mixture of journalism, travel literature and mathematical history that will have a much wider appeal than many other accessible texts on mathematics.

Mathematics of life

"Mathematics of life: Unlocking the secrets of existence" by Ian Stewart

Ian Stewart's latest book guides us through the recent collision of mathematics and biology. This is not a book about mathematics with a bit of biology sprinkled on afterwards – Mathematics of life weaves a history of biology with examples of how mathematics can help solve the unanswered questions that were created along the way. Mathematics, Stewart argues, will be the next biological revolution.

Maths 1001

"Maths 1001: absolutely everything you need to know about mathematics in 1001 bite-sized explanations" by Richard Elwes

This book is a mixture between an encyclopedia and a collection of intriguing ideas. In some sense, it's a plain English encyclopedia of maths, embellished with some examples for entertainment. So whether you're trying to get at the "true" meaning of something textbooks only define using passionless symbols, or are looking for a little diversion before going to sleep, this book can give you both.

And here are some other favourites suggested by our readers:

  • "The number mysteries" by Marcus du Sautoy
  • "Sync: the emerging science of spontaneous order" by Steven Strogatz
  • "Strange attactors" by Sarah Glaz and JoAnne Growney
  • "Linked: the new science of networks" by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi
  • "Supercooperators" by Martin Nowak and Roger Highfield
  • "Zero: Biography of a Dangerous Idea" by Charles Seife
  • "Mathematics for everyman" by Egmont Colerus
  • "A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines" by Janna Levin
  • "The Pleasures of Counting" by Tom Korner
  • "To Infinity and Beyond: A Cultural History of the Infinite" by Eli Maor
  • "Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid" by Douglas Hofstadter
  • "Mathematics: From the Birth of Numbers" by Jan Gullberg
  • "One Two Three... Infinity: Facts and Speculations of Science" by George Gamow
  • "Prime Obsession" by John Derbyshire
  • "Prisoner's Dilemma" by William Poundstone
  • "The Math Book" by Clifford Pickover
  • "The Number Devil" by Hans Enzensberger
  • "Topology from Differentiable Viewpoint" by John Milnor
  • "Leaning towards infinity: a novel" by Sue Woolfe
  • "The Man Who Loved Only Numbers" by Paul Hoffman
  • Indra's Pearls" by David Mumford, Caroline Series and David Wright
  • Music and mathematics: from Pythagoras to fractals" by John Fauvel, Raymond Flood and Robin Wilson
  • "Four Colours Suffice" by Robin Wilson
  • "The math instinct" by Keith Devlin
  • "The Book Of Numbers" by John Conway and Richard Guy
  • "You Can Count on Monsters" by Richard Schwartz
  • "PopCo" by Scarlett Thomas
  • Letters to a young mathematician" by Ian Stewart
  • "The Mathematical Experience" by Philip Davis and Reuben Hersch
  • "The Calculus of Friendship" by Steven Strogatz
  • "A Mathematician's Lament by Paul Lockhart
  • "The Moscow Puzzles" by Boris Kordemsky
  • "Mathematics, Magic and Mystery" by Martin Gardner
  • "The housekeeper and the professor" by Yoko Ogawa
  • "Uncle Petros and Goldbach's conjecture" by Apostolos Doxiadis
  • "Logicomix" by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou
  • "A Mathematician's Apology" by G. H. Hardy
  • "Flatland" by Edwin Abbott Abbott
  • "Statistics without tears" by Derek Rowntree
  • "Professor Stewart's Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities", by Ian Stewart
  • "How long is a piece of string?", "How many socks make a pair?", "Why do buses come in threes?" by Rob Eastaway and Jeremy Wyndham
  • "The Man Who Loved Only Numbers" by Paul Hoffman
  • "50 mathematical ideas you really need to know" by Tony Crilly
  • And the staff at Mathematics in Education and Industry have their own list of favourites

What are your favourites? Tell us in the comments below!

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December 4, 2011

The auspicious date of 11/11/11 saw the launch of a brand new YouTube channel dedicated entirely to numbers – Numberphile! They are producing two new videos every week (phew!) , each about a different number. So far they've covered 16, 11, 255 and 8128 and we have four new favourite numbers to thank for it. We can't wait to see what they do next!

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December 3, 2011

Tennis anyone? Fancy football? Whatever game you are playing (or watching) this weekend, find out the maths behind two favourite sports.


A fly walks round a football

What makes a perfect football? Find out why the ball's surface is the most prized research goal in ball design.


If you can't bend it, model it

Learn about the aerodynamics of footballs and perfect your free kick.


Blast it like Beckham?

What tactics should a soccer player use when taking a penalty kick? And what can the goalkeeper do to foil his plans?


Making a racket

Over recent decades new materials have made tennis rackets ever bigger, lighter and more powerful. So what kind of science goes into designing new rackets?


Anyone for tennis (and tennis and tennis...)?

What is the chance of another Isner-Mahut mega set at Wimbledon?


Winning at Wimbledon

What does it take to win Wimbledon?

Cricket, gymnastics or athletics more your thing? You can find those and many other sports in our Mathematics in sport package and the MMP's Sportal!

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December 2, 2011

End of year weariness setting in? Revive your brain with some of our favourite puzzles, as chosen by our readers and the Plus team!


2011 in fours

Bid farewell to 2011 with this puzzle from Plus reader, Paulo Ferro.


Prime birthday

Plus reader Aziz Inan has a question for you: Which mathematician is in their prime?


Finding the nine...

Think you know how to use the numbers 1 to 9? Our colleague James Grime puts your digits to the test.

Sock sorting strategy

Try your hand at a puzzle from the Hands-on risk and probability road show: How many socks do you need to grab to find a pair?

Rabbit and string

Buster the cosmic rabbit is playing ball with the Earth and very large piece of string... A slightly surreal take on a favourite puzzle with a very surprising answer!

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