Imagine a planet made of mathematics....

Rachel Thomas and Julia Hawkins Share this page

Under the watchful gaze of the iconic mathematical structure, the Eiffel Tower, 80 mathematicians from around the world gathered in the UNESCO headquarters in Paris this week to celebrate Mathematics of Planet Earth Day. This was the European launch of Mathematics of Planet Earth 2013 (MPE2013): a year-­long international effort highlighting the contributions made by mathematics in the study of global planetary problems: migrations, climate change, sustainability, natural disasters, pandemics... and in the search for solutions.

This initiative, said Marta Sanz-Solé, the President of the European Mathematical Society, "is a manifesto of the commitment of mathematics to society". This collaboration aims both to advance research on fundamental questions about Planet Earth and to show the general public the vital role maths plays in global challenges. John Toland, the director of the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences says: "Because mathematics is the language in which all things are quantified it has a bearing on every aspects of our lives and cultures, whether we recognise it or not. Banking, security protocols, tsunami forecasting, medical scanning technology, airline scheduling and satellite navigation all have one thing in common: mathematics. The scope of Mathematics of Planet Earth is limited only by our imaginations."

One of the first achievements of MPE2013 is an open source exhibition: a collection of fascinating exhibits that are available to download for free, so that anyone can create their own Mathematics of Planet Earth exhibition, whether in a museum, school or gallery. The winners of a competition to create these exhibits were announced at the meeting. Third prize went to the film, "The future of glaciers", an entertaining and enlightening explanation of how mathematicians and glaciologists work together to produce realistic estimates of the future evolution of glaciers. First and second prizes went "The sphere of the Earth" and "Dune Ash", both interactive programs that allow you to explore the distortions of map projections and simulating volcano eruptions, respectively.

This exhibition is hosted by IMAGINARY. This project started as a maths and arts exhibition for the German Year of Mathematics 2008. It quickly became one of the most important travelling maths exhibition in the world, attracting more than 800,000 visitors in over 20 countries. Now IMAGINARY has evolved into an open platform for the communication of mathematics. Anyone can use the exhibits in their own exhibitions or can publish their own content for other people to use. Andreas Matt, one of the organisers of IMAGINARY, said this new platform ends the separation between exhibition content and user content. "Instead people can join a community and both create and explore mathematics."

We were fortunate enough to visit an IMAGINARY exhibition in Barcelona last year (watch the podcast to the right for a little taste). It was brilliant to see so many people there engaging with beautiful and complex mathematical ideas with ease and enthusiasm. MPE2013 continues this excellent work, bringing mathematicians and public together as a community to focus on the challenges that face our planet.

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