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Posts Tagged "Mathematics & Modeling"

Beautiful Minds

The Neuroscience of Mathematical Beauty

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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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Beautiful Minds

Talent on the Sidelines: The Widening Gap in Excellence

Reserved sign

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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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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Critical Opalescence

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

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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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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Doing Good Science

Getting kids interested in math careers may require a hero.

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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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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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Life, Unbounded

In Defense Of Metaphors In Science Writing

(James Gillray)

“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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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

World Cup Prediction Mathematics Explained

Brazil vs. England in a "friendly" in Rio de Janeiro

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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Observations

Mathematical Patterns in Sea Ice Reveal Melt Dynamics

Melt ponds on the surface of Arctic sea ice. Credit: Karen Frey

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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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

“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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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

Metrocard Mathematics: Are Unlimited Subway Passes a Good Deal?

Metrocards subway bike

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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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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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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Roots of Unity

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

Emmy Noether has a posse. Created by Evelyn Lamb based on a public domain image of Emmy Noether, via Wikimedia Commons.

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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Roots of Unity

Build Your Own Fractal with MegaMenger!

A completed level 1 Menger sponge. Image: Manchester Science Festival.

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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Roots of Unity

A Computer Scientist Tells Mathematicians How To Write Proofs

Leslie Lamport, clad in a t-shirt that says "You want proof? I'll give you proof!" gave a presentation at the Heidelberg Laureate Forum. Image: HLFF/Kreutzer.

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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Roots of Unity

Mathematics, Live: A Conversation with Evelyn Boyd Granville

Evelyn Boyd Granville in 1997. Image: Margaret Murray, via Mathematicians of the African Diaspora by Scott W. Williams.

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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Roots of Unity

Look Ma, No Zero!

Babylonian numerals are surprisingly easy to decipher. Image: public domain, via sugarfish and Wikimedia Commons.

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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Roots of Unity

In Praise of Proofs by Contradiction that Aren’t

Opposing arrows, a common conclusion to a proof by contradiction.

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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Roots of Unity

What Is the Goal of a Math History Class?

An illustration from Oliver Byrne's 1847 edition of Euclid's Elements. Image: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

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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Roots of Unity

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

The profile of Archimedes on the front of the Fields Medal Grigori Perelman did not accept. The medal was designed by Robert Tait McKenzie Image: Stefan Zachow.

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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Roots of Unity

Math Twitter Bots, Reviewed and Rated

Math+Twitter Image: Design Shack.

In the course of being a math person on Twitter, I have run across some math-related Twitter bots and feeds. It would just be mean to grade my human tweeps, but I have no qualms about rating the bots! Taking a page from the Aperiodical’s integer sequence reviews, I’m rating them on a scale of [...]

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Roots of Unity

The Shocking Failure of British Rail Travel to Respect the Triangle Inequality

A British train approaches a station. Image: Ingy the Wingy, via flickr.

I spent about a month in the UK earlier this summer, and that meant I took a lot of train trips. I love riding trains: the feeling of endless possibility I get when I look at the departure boards, the countryside rolling by, the fantastic people-watching, the two-hour delay between Edinburgh and Manchester because 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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Symbiartic

The Long Shadow of Fungal Networks

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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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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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