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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.

Mathematical genius: extrapolate from your own experience?

The BBC biography series Great Lives covered in its most recent episode Srinivasa Ramanujan. In the closing minutes of the programme, host Matthew Paris said this, which I found quite interesting (or at least, interestingly expressed):

I’m so far from understanding the mind of a mathematical genius that it’s simply inconceivable that you could tell a person an apparently random number and he could intuit or deduce the kind of fact that he deduced about that taxi license number. I mean, I can’t run a four-minute mile, but I once ran a five-minute mile, and I can extrapolate from my own experience, in a way understand how someone might just be a lot better than me at something that, in an inferior way, I can also do. But Ramanujan isn’t like that. It’s as though this man were a different species, not just a superior example of the same species. Can you learn to do this kind of thing? Could I, if I had applied myself? Or is it that goddess again, is it really just genius?

Answers on a postcard!

Particularly mathematical New Year Honours 2017

Usually at this time of year, I have a look through the New Year Honours list for particularly mathematical appointments. Here are the names I’ve found that are particularly mathematical.

  • Tricia Dodd, Chief Methodology Officer, UK Statistics Authority, appointed MBE “for services to Statistics and Research”.
  • Dave Watson, director of IBM Research in the UK, who apparently has a focus on big data, appointed CBE “for services to Science and Engineering Research”.
  • Maggie Philbin, appointed OBE “for services to Promoting careers in STEM and Creative Industries”.
  • Anne-Marie Imafidon, co-founder and CEO of Stemettes, appointed MBE “for services to Young Women within STEM Sectors”.

I think every time I have done this (for New Year and Birthday Honours since 2013), there has been at least one person on the list, and usually several, specifically included for services to mathematics or mathematics education. This time, this is not the case, though there is one mention of statistics.

Are there any others I’ve missed? Please add any of interest in the comments below. A full list may be obtained from the UK Government website.

Call for submissions for Math Teachers at Play blog carnival

Readers of The Aperiodical are probably familiar with the Carnival of Mathematics, a monthly blog roundup which takes any maths-related content. Did you also know there is a related blog carnival called Math Teachers at Play?

The Math Teachers at Play (MTaP) blog carnival is a monthly collection of tips, tidbits, games, and activities for students and teachers of preschool through pre-college mathematics. We welcome entries from parents, students, teachers, homeschoolers, and just plain folks. If you like to learn new things and play around with ideas, you are sure to find something of interest.

I’ll be hosting the January 2017 edition of MTaP here at Travels in a Mathematical World. Of course, a blog carnival is only as good as its submissions, so if you join me in aspiring to the claim “you are sure to find something of interest” then please keep your eyes open for interesting blog posts and submit them to MTaP. Please submit posts you’ve enjoyed by others or yourself. Posts you wrote that are appropriate to the theme are strongly encouraged. Submit through the MTaP submission form, leave a comment here or tweet me. Thank you!

Submissions are open now, and anything received by Friday 20th January 2017 will be considered for the edition hosted here.

Paper about student use of a learning space in mathematics

Sheffield Hallam University Maths DepartmentOne of the nice things about working in mathematics at Sheffield Hallam University is the environment in which I work. The maths department is a big, open learning space for students surrounded by staff offices. It’s a busy place, full of activity and plenty of opportunities to interact with students and other staff.

This space was renovated for mathematics a little before I arrived. It was designed to enhance student engagement and to create this sense of community, to allow collaborative learning and encourage inter-year interactions.

Over the last year, we conducted a study of use of the space. This included observations of use of the space as well as questionnaires and interviews with students about their use of the space, including students who had studied in the department in the old and new locations.

The results have just been published as ‘The role of informal learning spaces in enhancing student engagement with mathematical sciences‘ by Jeff Waldock, Peter Rowlett, Claire Cornock, Mike Robinson & Hannah Bartholomew, which is online now and will appear in a future issue of International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology (doi:10.1080/0020739X.2016.1262470).