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Scenes at a maths conference

We’re all trying to combat the stereotypes of mathematicians: we try our best to make our work accessible to the public; we wear clean clothes and make eye contact; some of us even had the good sense to be female. But sometimes, the woolly-headed mathematician of legend materialises in his pure form.

Here, in his own words, are a few things that happened at a conference recently attended by one of my friends.

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.