Deciding who is to blame and who should pay for the financial crisis will be a hot topic at the G8 next week. Financial mathematics received a lot of bad press in the aftermath of the crunch and many believe that it was the popularity of mathematical models – often borrowed from physics — that put the financial system at risk. But now models borrowed from biology are helping us understand how this risk might be reduced.
Modelling the spread of disease is a difficult business. Epidemiologists use incredibly complex models involving huge amounts of transport, social contact and disease data to predict the spread of diseases. But is there a way to hide all this complexity and draw a simpler picture of how diseases spread, even in today's complex world?
When NASA first decided to put a man on the Moon they had a problem: once the Apollo spacecraft was in flight, they would not be able to observe its exact location and neither would they be able to predict it using physics. How could they send astronauts to the Moon if they didn't know where they were? An ingenious mathematician came up with an answer.