Peter Markowich is a mathematician who likes to take pictures. At first his two interest seemed completely separate to him, but then he realised that behind every picture there is a mathematical story to tell. Plus went to see him to find out more, and ended up with an introduction to partial differential equations. This podcast accompanies the article Universal pictures.
Chuck Gill caught the space bug as a child when watching Alan Shepherd launch into space. Since then he's worked as a US Air Force navigator, a satellite operator, and in the US intelligence service. These days he's busy reducing carbon emissions and preparing London for the 2012 Olympics. Plus went to see him to find out more about his career. This podcast accompanies the career interview from issue 48 of Plus.
The biggest physics experiment ever — the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) — is due to start on September the 10th. The LHC is a particle accelerator. It's a 27km underground tunnel located near Geneva at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN). Protons will be sent racing through the tunnel on collision course with each
other, and scientists hope that the remains of these collisions will answer some of the biggest secrets of the Universe.
Watch this space for more information. Meanwhile, you can find out more in the Plus articles
The Channel 4 programme Countdown has started the search to find an arithmetician for the new series in 2009.
If you are a number-cruncher yourself, you could be just what they're looking for. Find out how to apply on their website. You don't have to be female and you don't have to have been on telly before, but you do need to have a way with numbers and lots of charisma. The closing date for applications is the 19th of
Zipf's law arose out of an analysis of language by linguist George Kingsley Zipf, who theorised that given a large body of language (that is, a long book — or every word uttered by Plus employees during the day), the frequency of each word is close to inversely proportional to its rank in the frequency table. We thought we
would test this out on Plus. What does this imply about how we use language and how it evolved?
Is it really a mystery? I have at least one idea off the top of my head.
Since one of the ways you can construct power law distributed networks (competitive scale networks) is through growth/decay rules (e.g. the next added link will have the highest probability of connecting to the node with the higher degree or existing connections) and thinking a little about how language evolves by adopting and abandoning words, it seems likely that words frequency could follow a
power law because they are added to and removed from over time with a similar set of rules (at some level).
The only question is what exactly do such network nodes and their degrees map to?
Nodes seems map to words or perhaps the idea represented by the word or word-sound or word-ideas. If the nodes map to ideas then there is also a link to memes and various mind-external scale-free structures.
Nodal degree seems to related to usage of the word - either simply the frequency of usage or something deeper that results in that frequency.
Mathematics is often used to study evolution, whether that be the evolution of animal species, the evolution of viruses or the evolution of language. A recent study has taken this one step further by modelling the evolution of national cuisine, and it was found that even though there are wall-to-wall celebrity chefs on television these days trying to broaden our culinary horizons, our cultural
cuisines are largely the same as they were almost 100 years ago.