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Posts Tagged "math"

Anecdotes from the Archive

Anecdotes from the Archive: A ship-shooting formula

One of the reasons I dreaded math class was the looming feeling that what I learned would turn out to be useless. No matter how hard I tried, I could not imagine a situation outside of school when I would need to know how to graph a logarithm or find the degree of an unknown [...]

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Anthropology in Practice

Editor’s Selections: Myths, Shoulders, Risks, Resolutions, And Math

Part of my online life includes editorial duties at ResearchBlogging.org, where I serve as the Social Sciences Editor. Each Thursday, I pick notable posts on research in anthropology, philosophy, social science, and research to share on the ResearchBlogging.org News site. To help highlight this writing, I also share my selections here on AiP. Happy New Year! Bloggers [...]

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Beautiful Minds

The Need for Belonging in Math and Science

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From her earliest memories, Catherine Good was good at math. By second grade she was performing at the fourth grade level, sometimes even helping the teacher grade other students’ work. She was praised constantly for her “gift”, often overhearing her mother tell anyone who would listen that she was a “sponge” for anything mathematical. By [...]

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Beautiful Minds

Why Education Needs More Radioactive Spiders

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Education needs more radioactive spiders. Stay with me. Remember Peter Parker? His childhood wasn’t easy. Both of his parents– Richard and Mary– were killed on a mission as double agents. Raised by his Uncle Ben and Aunt May in Queens, Peter spent most of his childhood without an identity. Now, Peter was a good student. [...]

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Budding Scientist

The New, New Math: A Parent’s Guide

There are big changes underway in how kids across the country are learning math. Forty-four states plus the District of Columbia have adopted a common set of standards that detail what students should understand and be able to do at each grade level, from Kindergarten through the end of high school. Known as the Common Core State Standards, [...]

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But Not Simpler

When You Decide To Dispel The Santa Claus Myth, Make It A Teachable Moment

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On a bitingly cold morning in 2011, I was sitting quietly in a repurposed Chicago bar listening to a physics teacher kill Santa Claus. Apparently, physics teachers and educators do this all the time. Examinations of Kringle’s physics are posted (and rebutted) in web archives, physics news outlets, and numerous science blogs. And it’s hard [...]

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Cross-Check

Benoit Mandelbrot (RIP) and the quest for a theory of really everything

Benoit Mandelbrot

The passing of the mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot has triggered in me a wave of nostalgia for the 1980s, when Mandelbrot and other researchers seemed to be creating a scientific revolution. They hoped that sophisticated new mathematical techniques, plus increasingly powerful computers, could help them fathom a wide range of complex, nonlinear phenomena—from brains and immune [...]

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Cross-Check

Contemplating the end of the world, math, mystery and other things

I suffer from eschatological obsession. That is, I spend lots of time brooding about ends. So the cover of the September Scientific American—which reads simply "the end."—made me all shivery, like when I hear the spooky sitar opening of The Doors’ apocalyptic rock poem "The End." (I’m never more Freudian than when I hear Morrison’s [...]

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Guest Blog

To What Extent Do We See with Mathematics?

Variable X

When I first became fascinated with mathematics’ tightly knit abstract structures, its prominence in physics and engineering reassured me.  Mathematics’ indisputable value in science made it clear that my preoccupation with its intangible expressions was not pathological.  The captivating creative activity of doing mathematics has real consequences. During my graduate school years, I began to [...]

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Guest Blog

Celebrations of Mind Honor Math’s Best Friend, Martin Gardner

Every fall provides a special excuse for all thinking people to celebrate recreational math, magic and rationality, some of the things that were dear to America’s greatest man of letters and numbers, former Scientific American columnist Martin Gardner (1914 ­– 2010), via Celebration of Mind events. While Gardner was without doubt the best friend mathematics [...]

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MIND Guest Blog

Can Synesthesia in Autism Lead to Savantism?

Daniel Tammet has memorized Pi to the 22,514th digit. He speaks ten different languages, including one of his own invention, and he can multiply enormous sums in his head within a matter of seconds. However, he is unable to hold down a standard 9-to-5 job, in part due to his obsessive adherence to ritual, down [...]

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Observations

Glow Sticks Prove the Math Theorem behind the Famous Flatiron Building

The Pythagorean theorem projected onto the Flatiron building

How many math lovers live in New York City? It’s a tough count to make, but the Museum of Mathematics made progress at its first anniversary celebration on Thursday, December 5. With a mission to illuminate the math that permeates our day-to-day lives, the Museum of Mathematics, or MoMath, wasn’t about to waste its birthday [...]

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Observations

Please Play with Your Math: New Museum Opens in New York City

Math can be a beautiful, immersive, full-body experience, according to the creators of the newly opened Museum of Math, or MoMath, in New York City. A sculpture that lights up and plays music, a touch-screen floor that turns into a maze and a square-wheeled tricycle that one can ride around a bumpy track are just [...]

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Observations

A Presidential Pythagorean Proof

James Abram Garfield was born on this day, November 19, in 1831. Had an unstable, delusional stalker’s bullets and nineteenth-century medical “care” not cut short his life just six months into his presidency, he would be 181 today (more on that later). Garfield was an intelligent man who studied some math in college, but contemporary [...]

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Observations

Mathematicians at Play: 3-D Printing Enters the 4th Dimension

I was at a math conference last week, and one of the other attendees brought a puzzle. I am a pretty slow puzzle-solver, so it will be a while before I figure out how to assemble those five pieces to get this. Three views of the assembled puzzle. Saul Schleimer, a mathematician at the University [...]

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Observations

Fractal Kitties Illustrate the Endless Possibilities for Julia Sets

For decades, scientists have been trying to solve a tough question: if the Internet runs out of cat pictures, can we generate more using advanced mathematics?* A paper posted on the arxiv earlier this month by mathematicians Kathryn Lindsey and the late William Thurston calms fears about “peak cat.” In the paper, they describe a [...]

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Observations

Why 167 Is a Happy Number—Besides Being Scientific American‘s Age

On Tuesday, Scientific American turns 167 years old. It doesn’t exactly look like the kind of anniversary we usually celebrate, with our decimal normative number system that overvalues ending zeroes and fives, but 167 is a pretty neat number. First of all, we can insert two symbols into it to get a correct mathematical statement: [...]

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Observations

The Mathematical Legacy of William Thurston (1946-2012)

William Thurston, whose geometrization conjecture changed the fields of geometry and topology and whose approach to mathematics and mathematics education has reverberated throughout the mathematical world, died on August 21 following a battle with cancer. He has appeared in the pages of Scientific American in the article The Mathematics of Three-Dimensional Manifolds, which he co-wrote [...]

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Observations

Abandoning Algebra Is Not the Answer

In an opinion piece for the New York Times on Sunday, political science professor Andrew Hacker asks, “Is Algebra Necessary?” and answers, “No.” It’s not just algebra: geometry and calculus are on the chopping block, too. It’s not that he doesn’t think math is important; he wants the traditional sequence to be replaced by a [...]

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Observations

How Much Pi Do You Need?

I hope you’re ready for your big Pi Approximation Day party tomorrow. You might have observed Pi Day on March 14. It gets its name from 3.14, the first three digits of the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. Always on the lookout for excuses to eat pie, some geeky math types also [...]

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Observations

Puzzling Prisoners Presented to Promote North America’s Only Museum of Math

Last Wednesday night I attended a “Math Encounters” program co-sponsored by the soon-to-open Museum of Math in New York City. In 2008, Glen Whitney, a mathematician and former hedge fund manager, was dismayed to learn that a small museum dedicated to math in Long Island was closing. He decided to start a math museum himself. [...]

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Oscillator

Are plants “actually doing maths”?

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Can plants do math? That is the assertion of a new paper published in the journal eLife this week titled “Arabidopsis plants perform arithmetic division to prevent starvation at night.” The plants in question aren’t spitting out numerical answers to word problems on their leaves, but doing normal plant stuff: using energy stored as starch [...]

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PsiVid

STEM Makes Cars Safer, Buildings Taller, Enables Hearing and Moves Giant Magnets!

Muon g-2 magnet to be transported to Fermilab

As I reflect on the content of videos I have shared or watched in social media this week, I’m simply in awe at the creativity and ingenuity of humans and how we have used science, technology and engineering (and math) for our health, safety and progress. Some of these videos represent topics fresh this week [...]

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PsiVid

Math Warriors: Season 3

Have you ever watched “Mean Girls”? It’s one of the movies before Lindsey Lohan really began to let her career slip. She plays Cady, a smart girl, homeschooled by her parents as they lived in Africa until her high school years, where, desperate to fit in AND to “get the guy”, she dumbs down her [...]

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PsiVid

Who Are Your Favorite Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Youtubers?

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This is a follow up to my last post about Science Video Brainstorming. Thank you everyone who has kindly donated toward my trip to VidCon 2012! I have enough for a plane ticket! Please continue your generous donations in any amount so I can have a place to stay and food to eat! Recall that [...]

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Roots of Unity

What’s the Deal with Euclid’s Fourth Postulate?

An illustration from Oliver Byrne's 1847 edition of Euclid's Elements. Euclid's fourth postulate states that all the right angles in this diagram are congruent. Image: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

In February, I wrote about Euclid’s parallel postulate, the black sheep of the big, happy family of definitions, postulates, and axioms that make up the foundations of Euclidean geometry. I included the text of the five postulates, from Thomas Heath’s translation of Euclid’s Elements: “Let the following be postulated: 1) To draw a straight line [...]

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Roots of Unity

Measure Yourself by the Standard of the Capybara

Are you more or less of a fish than this capybara? Image: VigilancePrime, via Wikimedia Commons.

We all know a lot of measurements about ourselves. You are some number of feet or meters tall. You weigh some number of pounds, kilograms, or stone. Your BMI is some number of kilograms per square meter, even though humans are not two-dimensional. You have some number of milligrams of cholesterol in each deciliter of [...]

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Roots of Unity

The Slowest Way to Draw a Lute

Man Drawing a Lute, by Albrecht Dürer. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Last month, I went to a talk by mathematician Annalisa Crannell of Franklin and Marshall College called Math and Art: the good, the bad, and the pretty. She talked about how mathematical ideas of perspective show up in art and how it can help us create and appreciate art. One of my favorite parts of the [...]

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Roots of Unity

Graham’s Number Is Too Big for Me to Tell You How Big It Is

Behold, Graham's number!

I was going to write an April Fool’s Day post with the title “Mathematicians Declare Graham’s Number Equal to Infinity.” Graham’s number is really big, but of course, it’s precisely 0% as big as infinity. On the other hand, everything we touch is finite, so in some sense, Graham’s number is probably “close enough” to [...]

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Roots of Unity

What T.S. Eliot Told Me about the Chain Rule

T.S. Eliot, who probably never thought about the chain rule while he was writing poetry. Photograph by Lady Ottoline Morrell. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

“We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time.” —from Little Gidding by T.S. Eliot If you took calculus in high school or college, you might remember the chain rule. One of the main topics in calculus [...]

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Roots of Unity

We Only Need to Fill Out 425 Brackets Each to Win Buffett’s Billion

Will your bracket be a slam dunk? Image: Acid Pix, via flickr.

Warren Buffett’s Bracket Challenge* has put even more of a spotlight than usual on March Madness, the annual NCAA basketball tournament. Buffett has offered a billion dollars to anyone who correctly predicts the outcome of all 63 games in the tournament. There are 2 possible outcomes of every game and therefore 263— 9,223,372,036,854,775,808, or about [...]

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Roots of Unity

A Different Pi for Pi Day

Nope, not this kind of pi(e). Image: flickr/djwtwo

The symbol π is overloaded in math: depending on context and capitalization, π could be the constant we all know and love (or hate), a projection, a product, or a function. There’s plenty of stuff to read about the circle constant, so today I’m writing about one of those other π’s. Today’s π is the [...]

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Roots of Unity

The Math Wars, Lewis Carroll Style

Lewis Carroll in 1863, photographed by Oscar Gustave Rejlander. Image: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

In 1879, Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, published an odd little book called Euclid and his Modern Rivals (available for free at the Internet Archive). Though it takes the form of a play, it is a defense of Euclid’s Elements as the best textbook for geometry. Carroll’s introduction lays out his purpose and why [...]

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Roots of Unity

Chasing the Parallel Postulate

If you'd like to see these again, accept the parallel postulate. Image: Webber, via Wikimedia Commons.

Euclidean geometry, codified around 300 BCE by Euclid of Alexandria in one of the most influential textbooks in history, is based on 23 definitions, 5 postulates, and 5 axioms, or “common notions.” But as I mentioned in my recent post on hyperbolic geometry, one of the postulates, the parallel postulate, is not like the others. [...]

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Roots of Unity

Knotted Needles Make Knitted Knots

A knitted (5,15) torus link. Image: sarah-marie belcastro.

Step aside, infinity scarves, you aren’t infinite at all. The (5,3) torus knot cowl is where it’s at. For me, one of the highlights of January’s Joint Mathematics Meetings was the mathematical fiber arts session. You can view a slide show I put together from the session here. During the session, co-organizer sarah-marie belcastro gave a [...]

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Streams of Consciousness

The Making of a Mathematical Mind: 1 Step at a Time

worksheet for times 5

One time when I was in the third grade, I got sick and missed a week of school. My dad wanted me to keep up with my schoolwork, so he brought my assignments and books home. I did the required work in the math workbook quickly, or so the story goes, and went on to [...]

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Streams of Consciousness

Do Music Lessons Make You Smarter?

Practice makes progress, if not perfection, for most things in life. Generally, practicing a skill—be it basketball, chess or the tuba—mostly makes you better at whatever it was you practiced. Even related areas do not benefit much. Doing intensive basketball drills does not usually make a person particularly good at football. Chess experts are not [...]

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Streams of Consciousness

Star Filmmakers Found in Unlikely Spot

Two kids in lab coats and goggles apparently doing an experiment.

In Tyson Schoeber’s class at Nootka Elementary School in Vancouver, 15 fourth through seventh graders struggle to read, write or do math at a level near that of their peers in other classes. Ten-year-olds have entered Schoeber’s program, called THRIVE, virtually unable to read independently (see “One Man’s Mission to Save Struggling Students”). Yet Schoeber [...]

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Symbiartic

20th-Century Math Hidden in 15th-Century Art

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Art and science are often thought of as disparate entities, drawing on different strengths and different ways of thinking. This is surely true, but the disciplines also share patterns of thought and essential characteristics. Take, for example, their inherently collaborative processes. No artist creates in a vacuum just as no scientists could perform the work [...]

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Symbiartic

Yes, T-Shirt Messages Matter

lovemath

Yesterday, I came across a very interesting T-shirt design during my afternoon web surfing. The Children’s Place apparently forgot about the great “I’m too pretty to do my homework, so my brother has to do it for me” T-shirt debacle of 2011, and they decided to produce a shirt that reads, “My best subjects” and [...]

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Symbiartic

SciArt of the Day: Hyperdimensional Suffering

Dali-Hypercubemini

As our month of SciArt of the Day winds down, I had to share this image. For me, this is a touchstone of what makes wonderful science-art: marrying metaphors from past and present, science and myth. The idea that art and science represent two cultures, as C.P. Snow described is a curious one. Art, or [...]

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The Thoughtful Animal

Mathematics, Cities, and Brains: What Can A Highway Engineer Learn From A Neuroscientist?

At their most fundamental level, brains are made up of neurons. And those neurons collectively comprise the two main types of brain tissue: white matter is made up primarily of axons, and grey matter is made up of synapses, or the connections between neurons. (Want a primer on the neuron? Check out this explainer post [...]

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