What would you like to know about your Universe — The last online poll
This poll is now closed. The most popular question was: "How long is a day?" We will publish the answer in an article on Plus shortly. Thank you for taking part!
This is the last online poll in our series to celebrate the International Year of Astronomy 2009. Choose your favourite question from the list on the right, and we'll put the one that proves most popular to world-leading astronomers and cosmologists. The poll will remain open for a month and the answer will be published in a Plus article and
possibly a podcast soon after.
The winning questions in our previous polls have been
Cancer is one of the major causes of death in the world (particularly the developed world), with around 11 million people diagnosed and around 7 million people dying each year. The World Health Organisation predicts that current trends show around 9 million will die in 2015, with the number rising to 11.5 million in 2030.
Cancer is the focus of much medical research, but perhaps surprisingly, mathematical research is also playing its part. Mathematician Mark Chaplain and an interdisciplinary team at the University of Dundee, have been awarded 1.7 million euros to develop a virtual model of cancer growth and spread.
If you're a maths student and feel like enthusing the next generation with your favourite bit of maths, then why not take part in the Further Mathematics Support Programme (FMSP) and Rolls–Royce plc third national poster competition.
Undergraduate or PGCE mathematics students are invited to design a poster, individually or as a group, which conveys the essence of a mathematical topic that has been covered at university by the designer(s). The poster should be targeted at school and college students studying AS or A level mathematics. Two winners will be chosen and receive £100 each, and their designs will be printed and
sent out to over 2000 schools and colleges. The closing date is the 31st of March 2010. See the FMSP website for previous winners.
If this sounds interesting, then here are the rules. The poster should be mathematically accurate, attractively laid out, capable of enriching a course in AS or A level mathematics, and likely to attract school/college students to take mathematics (or mathematics-related subjects) at university. You can design your poster in any readily available software. Ideally, the page layout should be
set to 59.4cm × 42.0cm, using either landscape or portrait format. The university's logo should appear in the top left corner and there should be a space 7cm high x 5cm wide in the top right corner for the FMSP logo. The bottom 2cm of the poster should be left blank. All images should be at least 300dpi.
Entries, as well as any questions about the competition, should be emailed to Richard Browne at RichardBrowne@furthermaths.org.uk. The email must include the name(s) and full contact details of the designer(s). The poster design should be attached to the e-mail, in the form of an editable file. The FMSP reserves the right to edit the winning designs before printing.
Michael Green replaces Stephen Hawking in Lucasian chair
Congratulations to Michael Green who has been elected the 18th holder of the Lucasian Professorship of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, one of the most prestigious academic positions in the mathematical sciences.
Isaac Newton was the second person to hold it in the 17th century, and he has been succeeded by mathematical giants including Charles Babbage, father of computer science, the theoretical physicist Paul Dirac, and of course Stephen Hawking, who has been holding the chair since 1979. Hawking stepped down from the professorship in the year of his 67th birthday, as university statutes require.
Michael Green is one of the founders of string theory, which he pioneered from the early seventies onwards. Apart from original research in the area, his contributions include the a textbook co-authored with Edward Witten and John Schwarz, which for many years remained the only string theory text book around.
Peter Haynes, Head of the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at Cambridge, said: "Michael Green has played a leading role in theoretical physics research in the department since 1993. He is internationally known as a pioneer in string theory which over the last 20 years has become one of the most important and active areas of the
field. In the department he continues to make important advances in this topic and at the same time to support and inspire young researchers. His appointment as Lucasian Professor continues the very distinguished tradition of that post."
The idea that economics is all about the markets has been challenged by this year's award of the Nobel Prize in Economics. One half of the prize has gone to the political scientist Elinor Ostrom for showing that natural resources, like fish stocks or woodlands, can be commonly owned and still managed successfully. The other half of the prize has been awarded to the economist Oliver E.
Williamson for demonstrating that the internal structures of firms and companies can be better at resolving conflicts than the open market. The award of the prize shows that economic theory can shed light not just on hard business transactions, but also on other forms of social organisation.
This year's Nobel Prize in Physics has gone to three scientists for developing the technology that makes Plus possible. Charles K. Kao has received one half of the prize for developing the optical fibres that transmit information throughout the world. The other half of the prize is shared by Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith for developing the digital camera's electronic eye, known
as the CCD sensor.
Information is transmitted over the internet using light. A flashing laser beam is directed through optical fibres, with the flashes encoding the 0s and 1s that make up digital information. This process works because when the light beam hits the glass walls of the fibre, it bounces off and is moved forward. Optical fibres had been used even before the invention of the laser, for example by
doctors to look into people's stomachs, but they were only capable of transmitting information over very short distances, as the light quickly leaked away when travelling through the fibre. When Charles Kao started working in the field in the 1960s, his aim was to improve the technology so that all of 1% of light would arrive at the end of a 1km long cable. Today, due to Kao's work and the
generation of scientists he inspired, this number has increased to 95%! As a result, the network of optical glass fibres that spans the Earth today is over 1 billion km long. If you wrapped that length around the Earth, you would span it more than 25 000 times.
Light also plays an important role in the work of the other two prize recipients. Boyle and Smith were trying to develop larger memory capacity for computers, when they realised that Albert Einstein's photoelectric effect could be put to good use. According to this effect, electrons can be "knocked about" using light. Boyle and Smith realised that by knocking electrons out of light
sensitive cells sitting in a silicone plate, they could transform an optical image into electric signals, which in turn could be turned into digital information. By 1975 Boyle and Smith had used their invention to construct a digital video camera which was good enough to manage TV broadcasts. In 1995, the first ever fully functioning digital camera was produced, and the rest is history. And
although the CCD sensor has recently been challenged by another piece of technology, the complementary metal oxide semiconductor, bets are still on as to which of the two will rule the future.