Fun with microbiology: Virus, the Beauty of the Beast

Hamish Todd offers Virus, the Beauty of the Beast, an interactive documentary about viruses. Viruses have protein shells made of patterns which can be explored mathematically, and this link to tiling theory and geometric shapes provides a mathematical interest for the piece.

Hamish is a former game designer, former teacher turned PhD student in computational biology. He says:

While studying maths I had learned about viruses, and about their connection to Islamic art, which amazed me. I found it staggering that such beautiful things could surround us without most people being aware of it. I wanted to let people see it, and I knew that my game design skills could help me do that.

Apparently many viruses are arranged on what Hamish calls a ‘hexagons and pentagons’ structure (Caspar-Klug theory), and others have more exotic structures. Wikipedia says “most animal viruses are icosahedral or near-spherical with chiral icosahedral symmetry”, with other more complicated shapes also found.

As well as “interactive documentary”, Hamish calls the website an ‘explorable explanation’, which aims “to let laypeople play with the beautiful things that mathematicians and scientists spend their time with”. Overall, it seems like a nicely-produced series of interactive videos exploring an interesting topic. Give it a go!

More information

Virus, the Beauty of the Beast, the interactive documentary.

Virus, the Beauty of the Beast press pack.

A symmetry approach to viruses, an article at Plus.

2017 LMS prize winners announced

The London Mathematical Society has announced the winners of its various prizes and medals for this year.

Here’s a summary of the more senior prizes:

  • Alex Wilkie gets the Pólya prize for “his profound contributions to model theory and to its connections with real analytic geometry.”
  • Peter Cameron gets a Senior Whitehead prize for “his exceptional research contributions across combinatorics and group theory.” Peter has written a rare horn-tooting post on his excellent blog about winning the prize.
  • Alison Etheridge gets a Senior Anne Bennett prize “in recognition of her outstanding research on measure-valued stochastic processes and applications to population biology; and for her impressive leadership and service to the profession.”
  • John King gets a Naylor prize for “his profound contributions to the theory of nonlinear PDEs and applied mathematical modelling.”

The Berwick prize goes to Kevin Costello, and Whitehead prizes go to  Julia Gog, András Máthé, Ashley Montanaro, Oscar Randal-Williams, Jack Thorne, and Michael Wemyss.

Read the full announcement at the LMS website.

Laws of mathematics not as immutable as we thought, in Australia

Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull said, as part of a speech proposing a law to force tech companies to give the government access to encrypted messages,

“The laws of mathematics are very commendable, but the only law that applies in Australia is the law of Australia.”

The problem is that the end-to-end encryption schemes used by messaging apps make it practically impossible for the makers of the app to read messages, even if they really want to.

New Scientist writer Jacob Aron has seen the positive side of Turnbull’s comments:

Square wheels in an Italian maths exam

There have been various stories in the Italian press and discussion on a Physics teaching mailing list I’m accidentally on about a question in the maths exam for science high schools in Italy last week.

The paper appears to be online.

(Ed. – Here’s a copy of the first part of this four-part question, reproduced for the purposes of criticism and comment)

The question asks students to confirm that a given formula is the shape of the surface needed for a comfortable ride on a bike with square wheels. (Asking what the formula was with no hints would clearly have been harder.) It then asks what shape of polygon would work on another given surface.

What do people think? Would this be a surprising question at A-level in the UK or in the final year of high school in the US or elsewhere? Of course, I don’t know how similar this question might be to anything in the syllabus in licei scientifici.

The following links give a flavour of the reaction to the question:

6 hours, 1 question out of 2 in section 1, 5 out of 10 in section 2. My own initial reaction is that if I had to do this exam right now I’d do question 2 in section 1 but I’ve not actually attempted question 1 yet.

The curious mathmo talks to David Roberts

Way back at the end of last year I put out a call to mathematicians I know: hop on Skype and chat to me for a while about the work you’re doing at the moment. The first person to answer was David Roberts, a pure mathematician from Adelaide. 

We had a fascinating talk about one thread of David’s current work, which involves all sorts of objects I know no more about than their names. I had intended to release this as a podcast, but the quality of my recording was very poor and it turns out I’m terrible at audio editing, so instead here’s a transcription. Assume all mistakes are mine, not David’s.

If you’ve ever wanted to know what it’s like to work in the far reaches of really abstract maths, this is an excellent glimpse of it.

DR: I’m David Roberts, I’m a pure mathematician, currently between jobs. I work – as far as research goes – generally on geometry and category theory, and the interplay between those two. And also a little bit of logic stuff, which I thought I’d talk about.

Patterns and code to make your own cellular automaton scarves now online

If you remember our post about Fabienne Serrière’s amazing Cellular Automaton Scarves Kickstarter back in 2015, you’ll be pleased to hear Fabienne has now put the patterns, and all the code you need to make your own scarves, online on her Ravelry page.

If you have a knitting machine and are prepared to hack it to take code input (you can read Fabienne’s blog to find out how she’s done that), you can use JPG files to generate knitting patterns of your own, or use Fabienne’s code to create cellular automata from a seed row of pixels of your choice. She’s included the code for Rule 110, but I’m sure you could work out your own automata and knit those too. The patterns can also be knitted by hand, if you’re incredibly patient.

via KnitYak on Twitter.