It's official! The question that Plus readers would most like to have answered about the Universe is "What happened before the Big Bang?" In the first of seven online polls to celebrate the International Year of Astronomy 2009, the Big Bang question picked up 48% of your vote,
followed by the questions "What is the future of the Universe?" with 14% and "When will we be able to live in space?" with 11%. Thanks to all of those who voted, and especially those who left the many intelligent comments.
We'll now try and find an answer to this question with the help of expert cosmologists and astronomers, and we'll publish our efforts in the middle of March. At the same time we will launch our second Universe poll, which will take into account the questions you posed in your comments. So keep an eye on our blog, or subscribe to our newsletter to receive regular
John D. Barrow, renowned Cambridge cosmologist and author, director of the Millennium Mathematics Project, and regular contributor to Plus has won the Royal Society Michael Faraday Prize, which is awarded annually for excellence in communicating science to the general public. The prize
lecture, entitled Every picture tells a story, took place in London last week and is a fascinating tour through scientific imagery. It has now been put online on the Royal Society website. Happy watching!
To hear a version of Barrow's talk focusing on mathematics, listen to the enhanced Plus podcast Cosmic imagery. It comes with pictures!
Yesterday was square root day, and we imagine that most of you celebrated it in the customary fashion by eating square vegetables. It was square root day because the date was 03/03/09 and 3 times 3 is 9. The last square root day was on the 2nd of February 2004, and the next one will be on the 4th of April 2016, so they're relatively rare occurrences. Far more common are Plus's own
invention, addition days. The coming Friday is one of them, because the date will be 06/03/09 and 6+3=9. Of course there could also be subtraction days, or maybe exponential days. In fact, with a bit of numerical skill, you can probably turn every day into a maths holiday.
A far more serious affair is World Maths Day, which is in fact today. It's celebrated on the first Wednesday in March and involves student and student groups from around the world competing to solve 182,445,169 mental arithmetic challenges in 48 hours. The winners receive medals and certificates, but of course it's the glory of winning that counts,
and last year this was bestowed on teams from Malaysia and the UK, as well as individual students from Australia and the UK. It's too late to register for this year's event, but why not start practicing for next year?
We may be in a recession, but according to Gordon Brown, that's all the more reason to invest in science and maths education. In a speech in Oxford today, Brown pledged to increase the number of students taking maths A level from the current 56,000 to 86,000 in 2014, and to make sure that 90% of state schools teach physics, chemistry and biology as separate subjects, also by 2014. The measures
are meant to help ensure Britain's future competitiveness, and ease its over-dependence on financial services, which have got us into this mess in the first place. Some of the losers of the recession, those who have lost their jobs but have maths, science and IT degrees, are to be encouraged and supported to take up teaching, to tackle the lack of specialist teachers in these subjects. Brown also
pledged to encourage a positive public debate about science in order to improve the public's understanding of its role in society.
Geneticists are usually concerned with picking apart the individual genes that make up a genome, but now two biochemical engineers from the University of Wisconsin Madison have decided to re-assemble all the pieces and give them a good shake. They found that it's not just the genes themselves, but also the way in which they are organised within the genome, that determine the characteristics of
This type of permutation is exactly what keeps us "interesting" despite greater evidence of mechanistic implementation and structure in biology. Even given the fact that "not all permutations are equally likely" the variation in time and space and the Hilbert spaces of DNA, neural nets and life threads are still enormously re-combinatorial.
It's not often that maths makes it into the mainstream media, and when it does, it's usually a very specific bit of maths — a statistical result or a certain application — that's being examined. An article published yesterday on the Guardian website makes a nice exception. It explores
how maths underlies almost every aspect of modern life, from traffic lights to iTunes. Thank you, Guardian!
You can find out more about some of the topics mentioned in the article on Plus: