Plus Blog

July 24, 2012
Usain Bolt

Can you out run Bolt? Image: Jmex60.

What can you do to out sprint Usain Bolt to the taxi rank? Was he unlucky to lose at the Jamaican trials or is Yohan Blake really faster? Get in training for a summer of sport with a talk from John D. Barrow at the Science Museum tomorrow, 25th July. The talk is part of an evening dedicated to science and sport, part of the Science Museum Lates series. You'll also be able to test out the devices helping to keep athletes' bones in top condition, from hand-held scanners to vibrating platforms, and be part of the Science Museum sports day with a variety of thrilling events. The evening starts at 6:45pm and finishes at 10:00pm and all events are free. See the Science Museum website for more information.

John D. Barrow is the director of the Millennium Mathematics Project, of which Plus is a part, and he regularly writes for Plus, often on maths and sport. You can see all his articles here. Also, don't forget our sister site Maths and sport: Countdown to the Games and our teacher package on maths and sport.

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July 24, 2012

Are you ready for the Games? Andy Murray passes the Olympic Flame to Venus Williams at Wimbledon on the 66th day of the torch relay.

Will Britain be able to turn the home advantage into the top spot on the medal table this Games? Predicting medal counts is a tricky business, but, never afraid of a challenge, we will reveal our own predictions for the top 20 countries here on Plus on Friday. In the meantime, why not come up with your own mathematical method for predicting the results? To help you along, here are two articles we produced for the 2008 Games in Beijing:

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July 23, 2012

Only four days to go until the start of the London 2012 Olympic Games! To get into the spirit, we cast our minds back to one of our favourite features of the 2008 Beijing Games: the beautiful aquatics venue, known as the water cube. Looking like it's been sliced from a giant bubble foam, the design is based on an unsolved maths problem. And although the bubbles look completely random, the underlying structure is highly regular and buildable. Find out more about this beautiful building in our article Swimming in mathematics.

The Water Cube at night

The Water Cube at night. Image © Chris Bosse.

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July 17, 2012

Henri Poincaré died 100 years ago today.

Henri Poincaré died 100 years ago today. He is most famous for the conjecture (now theorem) which carries his name and which remained open for almost 100 years, until Grigori Perelman announced a proof in 2003. But the conjecture isn't all there was to Poincaré. One of his teachers reportedly described him as a "monster of maths" who, perhaps because of his poor eyesight, developed immense powers of visualisation, which must have helped him particularly in his work on geometry and topology. He has been hailed one of the last people whose understanding of maths was truly universal. And he also thought about the philosophy of mathematics. He believed that intuition has an important role to play in maths, and anticipated the work of Kurt Gödel, who proved that maths cannot ever be completely formalised. Finally, and extremely pleasingly for us here at Plus, Poincaré was one of the few scientists of his time to share his knowledge by writing numerous popular science articles.

You can find out more about the Poincaré conjecture and related maths in these Plus articles:

And there is more on Poincaré's life and work on the MacTutor history of maths archive.

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July 3, 2012

So results just released from the Tevatron experiment in the US strongly support last December's announcement from the LHC – it's looking promising that the Higgs boson exists and that it has a mass around 125GeV. But as we explained in our previous news story, Countdown to the Higgs, the level of evidence produced so far doesn't count as a discovery. Physicists will only declare they have discovered the Higgs boson if they are 99.99995% confident of their result – the elusive five-sigma level.

And we might not have to wait much longer. Excitement is mounting about tomorrow's announcement of the latest results from the LHC. You can watch the seminar at 8am and press conference at 10am BST live from CERN. And to whet your appetite here are some new articles explaining exactly what the Higg's particle is, does and how they are hunting for it. We're just off to put some champagne on ice...


Particle hunting at the LHC

Our favourite particle physicist, Ben Allanach, explains exactly what they are looking for at the LHC. Welcome to the world of quantum jelly....


Secret symmetry and the Higgs boson: Part I and Part II

The notorious Higgs boson, also termed the god particle, is said to have given other particles their mass. But how did it do that? In this two-part article we explore the so-called Higgs mechanism, starting with the humble bar magnet and ending with a dramatic transformation of the early Universe.


Countdown to the Higgs?

What does all this talk about sigma levels mean? It turns out that finding the Higgs is not so much a matter of catching the beast itself, but keeping a careful count of the evidence it leaves behind.


Hooray for Higgs!

The LHC gave particle physicists an early Christmas present last year – the first glimpses of the Higgs boson.

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July 3, 2012

The European Congress of Mathematics. The logo is an infinity-shaped pretzel!

Greetings from the beautiful city of Krakow, where the 6th European Congress of Mathematics opened yesterday! Around 1,000 mathematicians, donning straw hats and flip-flops to resist the incredibly hot weather, have come together here to chat, share and listen to lectures, and Plus will be reporting from the congress all week.

The day started with the Oscars of European mathematics: at the opening ceremony the European Mathematical Society awarded prizes to twelve young mathematicians for their excellent contributions to maths, their subjects ranging from geometry and group theory to chaos theory, quantum chemistry and the history of maths.

After that it was a conference lunch including infinity-shaped pretzels, and then the auditorium filled once more to hear Adrian Constantin's fascinating talk on water waves — it's not the water that moves with the wave, but the wave moving through the water. And when a wave breaks the maths that describes it seizes to work. I'll be talking to Constantin about his maths tomorrow and you'll be able to read an article on Plus soon. I'll also be interviewing Marta Sanz-Solé, the President of the European Mathematical Society.

Sara Santos

Sara Santos and her maths buskers on the streets of Krakow. The challenge here was to turn the waistcoat inside out while being handcuffed.

But the congress isn't just about mathematicians talking to each other. After the lecture I went in search of Sara Santos, who has taken her mathematical buskers to the streets of Krakow, handcuffing innocent Krakowians (a punishment for dividing by zero), constructing emergency pentagons, and reading minds. But as Sara says, it's not about magic tricks but about the magical fact that the world we live in is written in the language of maths. You can hear from some maths buskers in our podcast to be published soon and if you'd like to become a maths busker yourself, visit the maths busking website.

Krakow really is as beautiful as everyone says. It's the oldest city of Poland with an amazing medieval market square, the largest in Europe. And the town has picked up the mathematical theme with no less than three art galleries showing mathematical art — if I find the time between lectures, interviews, and wine-and-canapé receptions, I'll go and visit. But now I'm off for the last task of today: investigate the specific gravity of Polish beer.


Krakow's Market Square.