Science and maths are all about finding things out. Mathematics in particular is about making statements, and then determining their truth (or falsity). Finding a proof, or disproof, of a mathematical theory can be as simple as finding a counterexample, or it can take hundreds of authors tens of thousands of pages.
In this short series of articles, I’m going to write about some mathematical questions we don’t know the answer to – which haven’t yet been proven or disproven. Hopefully you will find it interesting, and maybe someone will even be inspired to delve deeper and find the answers themselves.
There’s too much maths news for us to cover, so we’re looking for a few volunteers to help out in our new News Team.
A fairly big part of what this site is for is to cover mathematical news. We like to write short, to-the-point posts pointing to the relevant information about current events. These don’t have to be as in-depth as a feature or column blog post, but are a great way to keep everyone aware of what is going on in the mathematical world.
Most weeks we find more stories than we find time to write up, and the three of us (Katie, CP and Peter) have ever-growing work commitments, so we’re seeing if anyone wants to help out. Read on to find out what’s involved, or if you’re feeling nosy about how we write up news.
The first MathsJam of the year was well attended. Despite not being on our usual table (there was no jazz band on this week, so we were allowed a bigger table further into the pub) everyone found us ok, and a few people brought baked goods – always a precursor to an excellent MathsJam.
We started off with some quick mental arithmetic brainteasers: how many straight cuts do you need to make to slice a flat square cake into 196 equally sized square pieces? Several people got the answer quite quickly, while others tried to cheat by stacking cake pieces and moving them around between cuts. No cheating!
It’s been in the news this week that the Royal Institution is having financial trouble, and is considering selling its London headquarters at Albemarle Street. The organisation has done a great deal for the popularisation of mathematics over the years, from including mathematics in its series of annual Christmas Lectures (delivered by Christopher Zeeman in 1978, by Ian Stewart in 1997 and Marcus Du Sautoy in 2006) as well as running an excellent series of mathematics and engineering masterclasses for primary and secondary schools, since 1981. They also have a dedicated maths team, who post maths resources on the Ri website.
Professor Sir Harry Kroto, a Nobel laureate in chemistry, has started a blog called “Save the Ri” and posted a highly outraged open letter calling on interested parties to “make it clear to the Government and others in positions of responsibility that we are outraged by the decision to put the premises up for sale”. He’s also posted a statement outlining the situation, and indicating his support of the ‘Save 21 Albemarle Street’ campaign, on Facebook and Twitter.
UPDATE: MP Valerie Vaz has tabled an Early Day Motion in Parliament about this, although it currently only has 9 signatures. There’s also an e-petition, calling for the government to purchase the building and let the Ri stay there permanently.
After two months we’ve finally done another podcast! We completely forgot even the most rudimentary things about how to do a podcast. Sorry.
In this episode, we talked about:
As always, we’re keen to hear about your mathematical exploits either by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or through our new, streamlined sending-something-in form.
If you’ve got some ideas for how we can do a better podcast, we’d be particularly keen to hear from you.
Podcast: Play in new window | Download
This week, the Freakonomics blog covered research by Stockholm University’s Kimmo Eriksson, which found that including a mathematical equation in the abstract of a research paper made scholars from different fields judge the research to be ‘of higher quality’, even though the equation is unrelated to the work and also complete nonsense. The study included 200 participants, although the amount by which the equation increased the perceived ‘quality’ of research varied between disciplines, and in fact caused a slight decrease for people working in mathematics or science subjects.
Via Tim Harford on Twitter.
Christian Perfect: 2012 was an alright year. At the very least, all of it happened, which is better than some had predicted. And since 2012 did happen, we are obliged by the Laws of Something to give out some awards.
Katie Steckles: Of course, the most noteworthy thing which happened in 2012 was the creation of an amazing mathematical blogging website, but I don’t mean to go on too much about that. Anyway, we’ve gathered together some candidates for some categories we made up, and will decide on our favourites via the process of arguing.