Plus Blog
February 10, 2010
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Unintended consequences of mathematicsMathematicians (and Plus authors) John Barrow, Colva RoneyDougal and Marcus du Sautoy will be discussing unintended consequences in mathematics with Melvyn Bragg on his BBC Radio 4 programme In Our Time tomorrow morning at 9am. Image courtesy NASA
Many of the most exciting developments in science is is when knowledge from one area such as pure mathematics unexpectedly crosses boundaries to provide deeper understanding of a previously unconnected problem in another area. The programme will explore many such unintended consequences, including how the ancient purely geometric study of conic sections turned out to be vital in understanding the orbits of the planets, how Einstein used the theoretical concepts from nonEuclidean geometry for his groundbreaking work on special relativity, and how the number theory provided the security necessary for our digital age. You can read more from John, Colva and Marcus on Plus, as well as articles on conic sections and planetary orbits, noneuclidean geometry and special relativity, and number theory and chryptography. posted by Rachel @ 2:09 PM 
February 4, 2010
Thursday, February 04, 2010
Catching sight of a cockroach tends to make us behave chaotically, what with the running and screaming and throwing of shoes. But it appears that chaos might actually explain how we, and the cockroach itself, behave. An interdisciplinary team of scientists from Germany have created a robotic cockroach that autonomously behaves in a way reminiscent of a real cockraoch. The robot independently changes gait depending on the surface it is walking on, avoids obstacles and can even extricate its leg from a hole or run away from predators. Recreating lifelike behaviour is not new, but this robot reproduces a huge range of behaviours and quickly reacts to new situations and switch between them. And the secret to its success is controlled chaos in its robotic brain. Labels: Health and medicine, Latest news posted by Rachel @ 10:40 AM 2 Comments:

February 4, 2010
Thursday, February 04, 2010
Putting the magic back into classroom mathsMathematics and magic may seem a strange combination, but Queen Mary's Matt Parker and Peter McOwan want to show students otherwise. They have produced many of the The Manual of Mathematical Magic, a unique kit of magical miracles, to show that the most powerful magical effects performed today have a mathematical basis. Freely available to any school in England, the Manual exposes the secrets behind street magic, closeup and stage tricks, revealing the varied and exciting everyday uses for the mathematics powering your magic. It gives young mathematicians the chance to be creative, finding new ways to solve problems and discovering the key to the perfect magic trick. Along the journey they will also uncover the skills of a good mathematician, one with the useful employment skills you get from being good at mathematics. Both McOwen and Parker regularly visit secondary schools to do Mathematical Magic shows for students. “Our goal is to help more students engage with Mathematics," reveals Parker, who is also involved with the More Maths Grads programme. "Magic tricks get the students excited and then we show them the mathematical principles that make the whole trick hang together. We also reveal how the same Mathematics underpins everything from medical scans to sending text messages.” As well as The Manual of Mathematical Magic, the kit also contains a pack of cards, notebook and pencil – all of which have hidden Mathematical Magic. Teachers can use the tricks in the book in their lessons and then explain the Mathematics and its applications. “Maths is magic. But too often school maths is a dull diet which sucks the joy out of what should be a thrilling and beautiful subject," said Paul McGarr, Deputy leader Maths Faculty at Langdon Park School where Parker gave a magical lesson to Year 10 pupils this week. "This new pack, quite literally, helps put the magic back into classroom maths. My pupils really loved it, they were engaged, excited and happy – not bad for last period of a long day! The 'wow' was audible when they saw some of the tricks demonstrated, and you could almost taste their intense curiosity to find out how it was done using maths. I would strongly recommend teachers to get hold of this pack and use it.” For more information and to conjure up a kit for your school, visit http://www.mathematicalmagic.com. And for more on maths and magic you can read 1089 and all that and Maths and magic on Plus, and learn mathematical magic tricks at the Magic of Computer Science. posted by Plus @ 2:28 PM 0 Comments:
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January 22, 2010
Friday, January 22, 2010
A complex symmetric structure known as the exceptional Lie group E8, which has so far only existed in the minds of mathematicians, seems to have turned up in real life for the first time. Physicists from the UK and Germany have conducted an experiment which involved cooling a crystal made of cobalt and niobium to near absolute zero and then applying a magnetic field. As they increased the strength of the magnetic field to a critical value, spontaneous patterns appeared in the configuration of electrons in the crystal, and these patterns carried the telltale signature of E8. Labels: Latest news posted by Plus @ 11:06 AM 3 Comments:

January 12, 2010
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Maths for mums and dadsIn a survey published last week 79% of parents revealed that maths homework frequently leads to conflict and arguments in the household, and a third of those surveyed admitted that they avoid helping their children with their maths homework. Over 40% of parents proved unable to work out the answer to a question that a 10yearold might be expected to solve in a national test. (Alex thinks of a number. He adds half of the number to a quarter of the number. The result is 60. What was the number Alex first thought of?) What's more, over 50% admitted to not being able to teach their kids basic maths techniques used in primary school, including division by chunking, the grid method, or number bonds?. The survey questioned a random sample of 1000 parents who have children aged 6 11 years. It was commissioned by Random House Group to coincide with the publication of a new book by Plus author Rob Eastaway and Mike Askew. Maths for Mums and Dads is designed to help parents come to grips with the techniques children are now taught at school and to give parents an insight into why children make mistakes. Look out for a review in the next issue of Plus or buy now from Amazon. posted by Plus @ 3:40 PM 0 Comments: 
January 8, 2010
Friday, January 08, 2010
How long will it be until climate change brings tropical butterflies, exotic birds, or malariainfested mosquitoes to UK shores? A team of US scientists has come a step closer to an answer by estimating the speed of climate change: the distance animal and plant species would have to migrate every year to maintain a constant temperature in their surroundings. According to the team's study, recently published in the journal Nature, the global mean of this speed is 0.42 km per year, but the study also points to important differences between types of habitat. Mountain species will be able to move slower, a predicted 0.11 km a year, since temperature varies quickly as you move up and down a mountain slope. Ecosystems from flooded grass lands and savannas, however, may have to shift by as much as 1.26 km a year to keep their temperature constant. Labels: Latest news posted by Plus @ 12:23 PM 0 Comments: 