Issue 12

September 2000

In this issue Jim McElwaine explains how he combines his two passions, maths and mountaineering, into avalanche research. We also find out about applications of the harmonic series and how you should plan your finances for the future.

Actuarial science began as the place where two branches of mathematics meet: compound interest and observed mortality statistics. Financial planning for the future is therefore rooted firmly in the past. John Webb takes us through some of the mathematics involved, introducing us to some of the colourful characters who led the way.
'Of the myriad strategems I employ to avoid useful work, the one I most enjoy is to envision how scientists of earlier eras would have made use of modern computers.' John L. Casti tells us how today's mathematicians are using computers to carry on the work of turn-of-the-century polymath d'Arcy Wentworth Thompson, who showed how mathematical functions could be applied to the shape of one organism to continuously transform it into other, physically similar organisms.
There are many errors that can occur when numbers are written, printed or transferred in any manner. Luckily, there are schemes in place to detect, and in some cases even correct, such errors almost immediately. Emily Dixon takes a break and discovers that codes are not just for sleuths.
The harmonic series is far less widely known than the arithmetic and geometric series. However, it is linked to a good deal of fascinating mathematics, some challenging Olympiad problems, several surprising applications, and even a famous unsolved problem. John Webb applies some divergent thinking, taking in the weather, traffic flow and card shuffling along the way.
Emmy Noether, pioneering female mathematician, died 80 years ago.

Solitaire is a game played with pegs in a rectangular grid. A peg may jump horizontally or vertically, but not diagonally, over a peg in an adjacent square into a vacant square immediately beyond. The peg which was jumped over is then removed.

Jim McElwaine tells Plus how he combines his two loves - mathematics and mountaineering - in avalanche research.
Solve the puzzle and eat the nuts!
I wish to God these calculations had been executed by steam." With these words, spoken in 1821, Charles Babbage embarked on the great quest of his life - the attempt to fully automate calculation. Goaded by the all-pervasive errors in the tables of the period, he began to conceive of a great machine that would replace human fallibility with utter mechanical reliability.
Professor Jardine's latest book is a broad survey of a remarkable period in history, the so-called Scientific Revolution. The premise of Jardine's narrative is that we currently live on one side or the other of a gulf in understanding between the sciences and the arts - the so-called "Two Cultures" defined by C P Snow - and her aim is to show, by illustrating the roots of modern science, that this cultural divide is a modern construct. Jardine therefore focuses her attention on the overlap and interchange of science, mathematics and the arts throughout the intellectual ferment of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
f you're flicking casually through the books in the "popular mathematics" section of your local bookshop, and see this book but fail to read the subtitle, you might well think that its theme is that some people are born with a "maths gene", and some without - and that possession of this gene is the major factor in determining who can do maths, and who can't.