Plus Blog
December 11, 2011
It may be Sunday but that's no excuse for resting your brain. Plus has been grappling hard with the strange weirdnesses of quantum mechanics lately, and we think that you should too. So get ready to be mind-boggled. The podcast: Does quantum physics really describe reality? With counterintuitive ideas such as superposition and entanglement, quantum mechanics doesn't seem to resemble reality as we know it, yet quantum physics is an incredibly successful theory of how the physical world operates. Plus spoke to Andrew Briggs, John Polkinghorne, Nicolas Gisin, David Wallace, Roger Penrose and Andrea Morello about how we can resolve the mysteries of quantum physics with our experience of reality. And we found out why quantum physics is just like riding a bike... Flying home with quantum physics Quantum mechanics is usually associated with weird and counterintuitve phenomena we can't observe in real life. But it turns out that quantum processes can occur in living organisms, too, and with very concrete consequences. Some species of birds use quantum mechanics to navigate. Studying these little creatures' quantum compass may help us achieve the holy grail of computer science: building a quantum computer. You can also listen to the accompanying podcast. When it comes to the science of the very small, strange things start happening, and our intuition ceases to be a useful guide. Plus finds out about the crazy quantum world, and spin that a politician would die for. String theory: From Newton to Einstein and beyond Over the last few years the words string theory have nudged their way into public consciousness. It's a theory of everything in which everything's made of strings. Find out how these tiny strings offer hope for reconciling quantum mechanics with Einstein's theory of relativity. One of the many strange ideas from quantum mechanics is that space isn't continuous but consists of tiny chunks. Ordinary geometry is useless when it comes to dealing with such a space, but algebra makes it possible to come up with a model of spacetime that might do the trick. Quantum mechanics say that some physical processes are fundamentally random. The perfect set-up for a lottery! |
December 10, 2011
What would Christmas be without the unlimited eating? And even though you can't taste it, there's plenty of maths in food. Here's some yummy examples. Researchers are asking for a serve of fuzzy logic with their pizza. How risky is your daily bacon butty? Whenever you smell the lovely smell of fresh coffee or drop a tea bag into hot water you're benefiting from diffusion. Now researchers have finally found experimental confirmation for the most important concept underlying diffusion theory. Take a dive into the rather smelly business of digesting food, and how a crazy application of chaos theory shows the best way to digest a medicinal drug. More on the fluid mechanics of food travelling through the intestines |
December 9, 2011
With the weather cold and the nights very dark, it's the perfect time to curl up in front of the fire and do some philosophising. Here are some of our favourite articles on mathematics and the nature of truth ... or lack of it! Searching for the missing truth Many people like mathematics because it gives definite answers. Things are either true or false, and true things seem true in a very fundamental way. But it's not quite like that. You can actually build different versions of maths in which statements are true or false depending on your preference. So is maths just a game in which we choose the rules to suit our purpose? Or is there a "correct" set of rules to use? We find out with the mathematician Hugh Woodin. Read more... In the 1930s the logician Kurt Gödel showed that if you set out proper rules for mathematics, you lose the ability to decide whether certain statements are true or false. This is rather shocking and you may wonder why Gödel's result hasn't wiped out mathematics once and for all. The answer is that, initially at least, the unprovable statements logicians came up with were quite contrived. But are they about to enter mainstream mathematics? Read more... This is not a carrot: Paraconsistent mathematics Paraconsistent mathematics is a type of mathematics in which contradictions may be true. In such a system it is perfectly possible for a statement A and its negation not A to both be true. How can this be, and be coherent? What does it all mean? Read more... If you like mathematics because things are either true or false, then you'll be worried to hear that in some quarters this basic concept is hotly disputed. This article looks at constructivist mathematics, which holds that some things are neither true, nor false, nor anything in between. Read more... To read more about maths and philosophy, have a look at our package Mathematics and the nature of reality. |
December 8, 2011
We do love our many-legged friends and we know they're not just for Christmas. In fact, they're not only cute they have a whole lot of maths in them too. Here are our favourite animal articles. How does the uniform ball of cells that make up an embryo differentiate to create the dramatic patterns of a zebra or leopard? How come there are spotty animals with stripy tails, but no stripy animals with spotty tails? Read more... Finding your way home without knowing where you are Foraging ants have a hard life, embarking on long and arduous trips several times a day, until they drop dead from exhaustion. The trips are not just long, they also follow complex zig-zag paths. So how do ants manage to find their way back home? And how do they manage to do so along a straight line? Their secret lies in a little geometry. Read more... England's performance in the 2010 World Cup was thankfully overshadowed by the attention given to Paul the octopus, who was reported as making an unbroken series of correct predictions of match winners. David Spiegelhalter looks at Paul's performance in an attempt to answer the question that (briefly) gripped the world: was Paul psychic? Read more... Will an infinite number of monkeys with typewriters eventually produce the complete works of Shakespeare? Read more... Not all the animals we love are real: some are generated by computers, but they have us cooing with cuteness or trembling with terror nevertheless. Here's how they are made. Read more... Here's more about our six-legged friends, showing that having a small brain doesn't stop you from doing great things. Read more... |
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! |
December 6, 2011
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. |