## Origin of Mysterious Portuguese Mathematical and Geographical Tiles Revealed

November 5th, 2014 | 4

A few months ago I wrote about some mystifying mathematical and geographic tiles I encountered at the National Tile Museum in Lisbon, Portugal. Their accompanying label gave no clue to who had made them or why. Several readers subsequently wrote to tell me what they knew about these tiles. Thank you to everyone who did [...]

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## The Neuroscience of Mathematical Beauty

May 7th, 2014 | 5

Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty” — Bertrand Russell The latest neuroscience of aesthetics suggests that the experience of visual, musical, and moral beauty all recruit the same part of the “emotional brain”: field A1 of the medial orbitofrontal cortex (mOFC). But what about mathematics? Plato believed that mathematical beauty was [...]

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## Talent on the Sidelines: The Widening Gap in Excellence

October 22nd, 2013 | 6

An alarming report on the current state of excellence in the United States has been released today. The conclusion of the report “Talent on the Sidelines: Excellence Gaps and the Persistence of America’s Permanent Talent Underclass” is that the United States is relying on less than half of its talent, with large percentages of our brightest students [...]

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## The Need for Belonging in Math and Science

October 21st, 2013 | 6

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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## How Do You Count Parallel Universes? You Can’t Just Go 1, 2, 3, …

August 6th, 2012 | 6

Cosmologists have been thinking for years that our universe might be just one bubble amid countless bubbles floating in a formless void. And when they say “countless,” they really mean it. Those universes are damned hard to count. Angels on a pin are nothing to this. There’s no unambiguous way to count items in an [...]

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

September 6th, 2010 | 21

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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## Getting kids interested in math careers may require a hero.

March 24th, 2012 | 2

Back when I was a high school math geek, our math team would go to meets that occasionally had tables set up to encourage us to pursue various careers that would make use of our mad math skillz. The one such profession where the level of encouragement far outstripped our teenaged interest was the actuarial [...]

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## To What Extent Do We See with Mathematics?

November 27th, 2013 | 5

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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## In Defense Of Metaphors In Science Writing

July 9th, 2013 | 19

“Science is all metaphor” Timothy Leary We live in an elegant universe. The cosmos is like a string symphony. Genes are selfish. There is an endless battle between thermodynamics and gravity. Do you love these statements, or hate them? The reading world gets pretty divided over whether or not it’s okay to apply metaphors and [...]

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## Can Synesthesia in Autism Lead to Savantism?

December 4th, 2013 | 1

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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## World Cup Prediction Mathematics Explained

June 11th, 2014 | 8

The World Cup is back, and everyone’s got a pick for the winner. Gamblers have been predicting the outcome of sporting contests since the first foot race across the savannah, but in recent years a unique type of statistical analysis has taken over the prediction business. Everyone from Goldman Sachs to Bloomberg to Nate Silver’s [...]

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## Mathematical Patterns in Sea Ice Reveal Melt Dynamics

March 13th, 2014 | 4

Some people call Ken Golden the “Indiana Jones” of mathematics due to his frequent excursions to remote, harsh parts of the world. Golden, a professor of mathematics at the University of Utah, studies the dynamics of sea ice, and he regularly goes out into the field to test his hypotheses. He has visited the Arctic [...]

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

October 31st, 2012 | 2

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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## “Wikithon” Honors Ada Lovelace and Other Women in Science

A Wikipedia edit-a-thon seems like a fitting tribute to the woman many consider to be the first computer programmer. October 16 is Ada Lovelace Day, an annual observation designed to raise awareness of the contributions of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines. Groups in the U.S., U.K., Sweden and India are marking [...]

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## Fractal Kitties Illustrate the Endless Possibilities for Julia Sets

September 26th, 2012 | 11

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

August 27th, 2012 | 3

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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## 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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## Metrocard Mathematics: Are Unlimited Subway Passes a Good Deal?

July 31st, 2012 | 6

Unlimited, or Pay-Per-Ride? That’s the question posed by the New York Times City Room blog this morning, as New Yorkers confront the great algebraic unknown of August: are unlimited subway passes still a good value even if you’re going out of town on vacation? Perhaps the author, reporter Clyde Haberman, has been reading too much [...]

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## Abandoning Algebra Is Not the Answer

July 30th, 2012 | 63

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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## 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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## The Math Geek Holiday Gift Guide

November 23rd, 2014 | 1

Looking for a gift that says, “Hey, I know you like math”? Look no further. There is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to wonderful mathematical things to give to people, but here are some of the coolest items I’ve seen this year. To read I wrote reviews of Jordan Ellenberg’s How Not to Be [...]

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## In Which Omar Khayyam Is Grumpy with Euclid

October 28th, 2014 | 7

My math history class is currently studying non-Euclidean geometry, which means we’ve studied quite a few “proofs” of Euclid’s fifth postulate, also known as the parallel postulate. I’ve written about this postulate before. There are many statements that are equivalent to the parallel postulate, including the fact that parallel lines in a plane are equidistant. This [...]

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## Beyond Emmy and Sophie: Resources for Learning about Women in Math

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, an international celebration of women in science, technology, engineering, and math. If you’d like to read about women in math for the occasion, you’re in serious danger of coming across an article about Hypatia, Emmy Noether, Sophie Germain, or Sofia Kovalevskaya. Of course, these are inspiring women with compelling stories, [...]

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## Build Your Own Fractal with MegaMenger!

October 9th, 2014 | 1

Later this month, people will be gathering at museums and schools around the world to build giant Menger sponges as part of a global fractal extravaganza called MegaMenger. A Menger sponge is a fractal that sits in three-dimensional space. To visualize one, imagine starting with a cube and splitting it into 27 sub-cubes, like a [...]

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## A Computer Scientist Tells Mathematicians How To Write Proofs

September 24th, 2014 | 7

Believe it or not, I do have friends who would describe themselves as not liking math, and every so often one of them will share this meme on Facebook: And then Satan said, “Put the alphabet in math.” There are different background pictures each time the meme pops up, but the text is always the [...]

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## Mathematics, Live: A Conversation with Evelyn Boyd Granville

September 5th, 2014 | 1

Evelyn Boyd Granville was one of the first African American women to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics. She recently turned 90, and I wrote a post here to celebrate. This more complete version of our interview originally appeared in the September-October 2014 issue of the Association for Women in Mathematics Newsletter. It is an edited transcript that [...]

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## Look Ma, No Zero!

August 31st, 2014 | 3

As I told my class on Thursday, the theme of the first week of our math history course was “easy algebra is hard in base 60.” We started the semester in ancient Mesopotamia, trying to understand Babylonian* mathematical notation and decipher Plimpton 322, an enigmatic tablet from about 1800 BCE. The Babylonian number system uses [...]

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## In Praise of Proofs by Contradiction that Aren’t

August 28th, 2014 | 4

If you don’t know what to do, do something. That’s one of my mottos when I teach math (and it’s probably good life advice too). Last year, I taught introductory analysis (basically calculus with the juicy bits left in), one of the first proof-oriented classes students take. Writing proofs is hard, and sometimes the hardest [...]

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## What Is the Goal of a Math History Class?

August 22nd, 2014 | 6

I’ll be teaching a math history class for the first time this semester. I’m excited to be teaching it, but I’ve noticed that preparing for this class has been very different from preparing for other classes I’ve taught, which have all been math content courses. I know how to teach a math content course. I [...]

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## How to Talk About the Fields Medal at Your Next Cocktail Party

August 11th, 2014 | 1

On Wednesday, four mathematicians will receive the prestigious Fields Medal at the International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM) in Seoul. If you go to the kinds of parties I do, the Fields Medal will probably come up at the next party you attend, so here’s your guide for conversing about the medal with aplomb. First, a [...]

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

August 15th, 2013 | 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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## The Long Shadow of Fungal Networks

I’ve heard it said that if you removed everything from the forest except for fungi you would still be able to discern outlines of trees and leaves because of the vast fungal networks of pervading everything. I’ve often thought that would make a powerful illustration but never got around to acting on it. So when [...]

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

February 25th, 2014 | 3

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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