Plus Blog

February 12, 2010
Friday, February 12, 2010

Maths at the Cambridge Science Festival

If you're wondering how to feed your maths habit between the 8th and 21st of March, then why not head to Cambridge for the 2010 Cambridge Science Festival? There'll be plenty of free maths events, including:

  • IMAGINARY: through the eyes of mathematics — A travelling exhibition of beautiful mathematical images and artwork taken from algebraic geometry and differential geometry in which visitors are able to create their own mathematical art. Age range: 12+.
  • Conversations across science and art — A talk and discussion event centred on the relationship between science and art, including the presentation Every picture tells a story by Professor John D Barrow and a talk by Professor Gerry Gilmore exploring the relationship between art and astronomy. Age range: 14+.
  • Enigma: codes and codebreaking — The Enigma cipher was one of the most powerful weapons of the Second World War. An apparently unbreakable code. How did a small group of mathematicians crack it? Come and see a demonstration of a genuine Enigma machine, and try your hand at breaking different codes used through 2500 years of history! Age range: 8+.
  • Who Wants To Be a Mathionaire? — Explore the maths of probability, chance and uncertainty in this exciting and highly interactive game-show style quiz, using hand-held voting technology to answer against the clock! Age range: 14+.
  • The Maths and Physics of Sport — Professor John D Barrow looks at some applications of physics and simple mathematics to a variety of sports, including weightlifting, rowing, throwing, jumping, drag car racing, balance sports, and track athletics, as well as some of the paradoxical systems of judging used in ice skating, and the effects of latitude and air resistance on some performances. Age range: 14+.
  • What's the risk of getting out of bed? — We are constantly being exhorted to change our behaviour to reduce the chances that things will turn out badly for us, and government is continually intervening to make our society safer. But are we being too cautious? In this lecture, Professor David Spiegelhalter will look at attempts to measure and communicate the benefits, and possible harms, of risk reduction in a range of areas, from swine flu to climate change, heroin to hang-gliding. Age range: 14+.
  • The hands on maths fair — Games and puzzles for all ages from the University's Millennium Mathematics Project. Pit your wits against the SOMA cube, tangrams, Auntie's Tea Cups or giant dominoes, and sharpen your strategic reasoning skills! Age range: 5+.

To find out about all the Cambridge Science Festival events go to the festival website.

posted by Plus @ 1:01 PM


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February 10, 2010
Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Unintended consequences of mathematics

Mathematicians (and Plus authors) John Barrow, Colva Roney-Dougal 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 non-Euclidean 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, non-euclidean geometry and special relativity, and number theory and chryptography.

posted by Rachel @ 2:09 PM


At 8:02 PM, Blogger David said...

I thought this show was brilliant, and I would like to listen again wish my son who is studying maths A Level. This show really made mathematics come alive.

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February 4, 2010
Thursday, February 04, 2010

Putting the magic back into classroom maths

Mathematics 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, close-up 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

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


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.


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posted by Rachel @ 10:40 AM


At 1:13 PM, Blogger Harry van der Velde said...

This is the way nature works and robots and other devices will follow. So chaos inflicts creativity: Rondom efforts. COOL

At 6:34 PM, Blogger Quantum_Flux said...

Oh crap, I'd better hurry and patent my idea soon, it seems like everybody else in the world is getting too close to it for comfort.

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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 tell-tale signature of E8.



posted by Plus @ 11:06 AM


At 10:13 PM, Blogger BlindTurtle said...

So, the answer to life, the universe, and everything is 57.

So what is the question?

At 4:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not 57...30.

At 1:41 PM, Blogger Steve said...

Dr. Radu Coldea is deadly right. The E8 symmetry group is more fundamental than what was achieved experimentally. Alexander Zamolodchikov pointed out its possible importance in a somewhat limited context similar to what was done in Helmholtz Inst. and Oxford. However, and since almost twenty years, there was a fully developed general theory for high energy physics based on transfinite E8. This is the usual E8 plus a manifest golden mean effect in addition to the inert one. The theory is fully explained in various papers published in a journal for nonlinear dynamics, Chaos, Solitons & Fractals. I should list three papers which readers of this serious site may find very illuminating and informative. They are: High energy physics and the standard group from the exceptional Lie groups, 36, 2008, pp. 1-17. On a class of general theories for high energy particle physics, 14, 2002, pp. 649-668 and The theory of Cantorian spacetime and high energy particle physics (an informal review), 41, 2009, pp. 2635-2646. Further work on the subject was made by Ervin Goldfain, L. Marek-Crnjac, Ji-Huan He and G. Iovane as well as Tim Palmer.

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January 12, 2010
Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Maths for mums and dads

In 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 10-year-old 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.

Read more from Rob Eastaway on Plus...

posted by Plus @ 3:40 PM


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