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Physics with hidden calculus

Crossing campus this afternoon, a student whose exam is later this week asked me “when you ask a real-world question on the exam and you want us to solve an ODE, can we just do it using formula we memorised from A-level physics?” Like what? “Like with one of the distance questions we might just use $v^2 = u^2 + 2as$.” I said that if they were relying on a result we didn’t use in the module and that they hadn’t proven, this would be a problem.

In the latest Taking Maths Further podcast (Episode 19: Computer games and mechanics), we had a puzzle that we say could be answered roughly, but the precise answer 23.53 (2 d.p.) required a little calculus. On Twitter, @NickJTaylor said

π approximation: Machin’s formula

In the excellent $\pi$ approximation video, Katie Steckles asked for $\pi$ approximations. I teach a first year techniques module (mostly calculus and a little complex numbers and linear algebra). This year I have changed a few bits in my module; in particular I gave some of my more numerical topics to the numerical methods module and took in return some of the more analytic bits from that module. This gives both modules greater coherence, but it means I have lost one of my favourite examples, from the Taylor series topic, which uses a Maclaurin series to approximate $\pi$.

More to be done between universities and industry

I saw the video below, which is Rachel Riley being asked questions about her maths education at a Your Life event, in a tweet by Rob Loe, who quoted a section of one answer around 4:50 where Rachel says: “stop saying proudly that ‘I’m really bad at maths’ because you wouldn’t say ‘I can’t read’, you wouldn’t say ‘I can’t write’ as a proud thing.”

What particularly caught my ear was this section (around 5:30):

Please tell people about Samuel’s Relatively Prime Series 2 Kickstarter

You probably remember Relatively Prime. This is a series of audio podcasts from my sometime collaborator Samuel Hansen, including stories about checkers, survival housing, swine flu, juggling, a Spanish basilica, and an alien civilization in England. They’re good. Go and listen to them.

Cory Doctorow described himself on boingboing as “a great fan of Relatively Prime” and the Chinook episode as “one of the best technical documentaries I’ve heard“. Tim Harford described it on Twitter as “a great podcast of storytelling about mathematics“.