You're reading: Columns

Maths at the British Science Festival

The British Science Festival is organised annually by the British Science Association, and this year it’s hosted by the University of Brighton and the University of Sussex from Tuesday 5 to Saturday 9 September. For more details and full listings, see the main British Science Festival website.

We’ve pulled out some of the mathematics-related events in the main programme – from theatre reproductions to puzzle workshops and plenty of talks and lectures, there’s something for everyone!

Maths at the Edinburgh Fringe

Every August a multitude of comedy shows, theatre pieces, interpretive dance performances, musical extravaganzas and spoken word events spring up all over the Edinburgh Fringe. As a busy mathematician (there are infinitely many integers; who has spare time?) I’m sure you’ll appreciate our guide to which of those things are mathematical, or have a tangential (LOL) relationship with mathematics. Please note: none of these are recommendations, as we haven’t seen the shows and mainly have been grepping the word ‘maths’ in online programmes.

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.