- Articles by Marianne Freiberger
Convex or concave? It's a question we usually answer just by looking at something. It's convex if it bulges outwards, and concave if it bulges inwards. But when it comes to mathematical functions, things aren't that simple. A team of computer scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have recently shown that deciding whether a mathematical function is convex can be very hard indeed.
Airport security staff have a daunting task. With impatient queues looming over them they need to search x-ray scans of cluttered suitcases for several items at once: knives, guns and bombs. How can we ease their task and make sure they don't miss a crucial item? To find out, scientists are trying to understand how we humans take in visual information. The humble triangle plays a crucial role in the experiments they perform.
A Rubik's cube, you'll be pleased to hear, can always be solved in at most 20 moves, no matter how badly it was scrambled up to start with. Mathematicians have proved that that's true. But what if you're wrestling with a larger cube that has more than three little cubes in a row?
If you are, then you may be one of the 5 to 7% of the population suffering from dyscalculia, the mathematical equivalent of dyslexia. But unlike many dyslexia sufferers, you probably haven't received the help you need to cope with your condition. As a recent article published in the journal Science points out, dyscalculia is the "poor relation" of dyslexia.
Astronomers have this month trained the world's largest steerable radio telescope on 86 Earth-like planets. The data collected by the telescope will later be analsyed by an estimated one million amateur alien hunters, users of SETI@home, for messages from other civilisations.