## News from the world of Maths

A quick postcard from Plus' temporary Cambridge/Boston office!

How does Olympic success correlate with a nation's GNP? How does the location of the Olympics affect the chance of record breaking? How can simple statistics help us understand the likelihood of winning streaks and the chance that an innocent athlete will fail a drugs test? What events should an ambitious nation target as the "easiest" in which to win Olympic medals. John D. Barrow will explore these question and more in a free public lecture at Gresham College in London tomorrow, 17th January 2012.

In the corner of the garden between the Centre of Mathematical Sciences and the Isaac Newton Institute in Cambridge, sits a reminder of our ongoing quest to understand gravity: an apple tree that was taken as a cutting from the tree at Newton's birthplace, the tree that is said to have inspired his theory of gravity. Newton's theory was extended to the cosmological scales by Einstein's theory of general relativity – but can supergravity explain how gravity works in the quantum world?

"Astronomers are used to large numbers, but few are as large as the odds I'd have given this celebration today," is how Astronomer Royal Martin Rees started his presentation at Stephen Hawking's birthday symposium yesterday. He was talking about the 1960s when he first met Hawking who was then already suffering motor neurone disease. But Rees' prediction has been proved wrong. Hawking turned 70

yesterday and since the time of their first meeting he has made enormous contributions to cosmology and physics.

*Plus*.

It's Stephen Hawking's 70th birthday this week and the University of Cambridge is celebrating with a conference in his honour. If it's going to be as exciting as his 60th birthday, and it definitely looks like it will, then we're in for a treat! We'll be giving you articles and podcasts from the conference soon, but in the meantime, here's what we did for his 60th.

Human reasoning is biased and illogical. At least that's what a huge body of psychological research seems to show. But now a psychological scientist from the University of Toulouse in France has come up with a new theory: that logical and probabilistic thinking is an intuitive part of decision making, only its conclusions often lose out to heuristic considerations.

This is it! Merry Christmas to all you beautiful *Plus* readers and listeners from the *Plus* team! We hope you'll have a marvellously happy 2012! And since Christmas is all about getting together with the folks, here's some family maths. You might not be able to choose them, but at least you can analyse them!