You're reading: Features

Art for a maths department

I don’t think the university maths department I work in has enough art in it. I have gazed covetously upon the walls of other departments I visit, covered with beautiful mathematically-inspired paintings and inspirational posters, serving as a backdrop to cabinets full of geometrical curiosities. I recently suggested to our Head of School that we could buy some art, and he said “That’s a good idea. Send me some suggestions.”

I was pretty delighted with that response, so I spent an enjoyable hour trawling the internet for art that would inspire and enrich our students and staff. We don’t really have anywhere obvious to put sculptures, so I wanted something you can hang on a wall. I had no idea how much money the Head of School was thinking of spending, so I assumed the worst and tried to stick to cheap posters and prints as a starting point. I wasn’t just looking for art – anything to decorate the walls, even if it ends up teaching the students something, is desirable.

My first port of call was my Arty Maths blog. I’ve been collecting nice bits of art that invoke or involve maths (and not art created purely to represent maths) for almost two years now. Unfortunately, it turns out I’ve almost exclusively been collecting sculptures and video works. That meant I had to do some googling!

Because I found some nice things, and in case anyone else is tasked with decorating a maths department and needs ideas, here’s what I found:

The Maths of Star Trek: The Original Series (Part I)

As you may well know, Star Trek was a science fiction TV show in the late 1960s. It featured futuristic technology and science fiction ideas such as warp drives, transporters, strange new worlds, time travel, and green alien space babes. And the possibility of all these things has, in the past, been discussed by experts, and nerds, in great detail. Especially that last one about green space babes.

But dammit, I’m a mathematician, not a physicist. So, instead of talking about the science of Star Trek yet again, what about the maths of Star Trek? After all, Star Trek is science fiction, but there is no such thing as maths fiction – so any mathematics featured on the show is sure to be on firmer ground. Right? Or as Spock himself says in ‘The Conscience of the King’;

SPOCK: Even in this corner of the galaxy, Captain, two plus two equals four.

Should we even expect much maths to feature on a simple space adventure show? In fact, many interesting mathematical ideas were raised during the show’s short run of 79 episodes, including; the probability we are alone in universe; a paradox that upset 20th century mathematicians as well as 23rd century androids; the mathematics of alien and Earth biology; and the most important question of all – when on a dangerous away mission, does the colour of your shirt really affect your chances of survival?

f(Erdős) = 100

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Paul Erdős, or as most people would call it, Erdős’ 100th birthday. So, Happy Birthday Paul. And if you’ve never heard of him, let’s see what people at his birthday party are saying about the Man Who Loved Only Numbers. Please note: all birthday parties are strictly fictional.

Probably the greatest mathematician of the twentieth century, Paul Erdős … was so eccentric that he made Einstein look normal. He was 11 before he ever tied his shoes, 21 before he ever buttered toast, and died without ever boiling an egg. Erdős lived on the road, traveling from conference to conference, owning nothing but math notebooks and a suitcase or two. His life consisted of math, nothing else.

– Clifford Goldstein, in The Mules That Angels Ride (2005), p. 125

Much ado About Noether

Calvin Smith tweeted this morning to tell us that today is International Women’s Day, and took the opportunity to remind his followers of some of the women in the mathematical sciences. Stealing his idea Following his lead, we thought we would write a post on the theme.

The Aperiodical is of course a pro-everybody enterprise all year round, but it doesn’t hurt to take some time to remind ourselves of the fact that women are just as capable as men of contributing to the field of maths. Incredibly, some people still don’t think this is the case!

‘Of little practical value’?

Some mathematics, pictured here being hard to illustrate in news coverage

Some mathematics, pictured here being hard to illustrate in news coverage

As the heady excitement of the dawn of a forty-eight-Mersenne-prime world dims to a subdued, albeit slightly less factorable, normality, I have taken the opportunity to see what we can learn about the British press’s attitude and ability when it comes to the reporting of big numbers ending in a 1.

Overseas readers may not be aware that the UK’s public service broadcaster, the BBC, is funded by a mandatory annual £145.50 tax on all television-owning households. Therefore, it would be disappointing if some of these funds were not channeled into reporting the discovery in at least five or six separately-produced broadcasts across the organisation’s various radio and television outlets.

The Aperiodical’s Possibly Annual Awards for Mathematical Achievement

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.

CP: Allons-y!

The Aperiodical is half!

Exactly six months ago, we launched The Aperiodical. Since then, we’ve published 523 posts to 115,000 visitors; been slashdotted, Hacker Newsed, and reddited; mentioned on Radio 4; got to the bottom of a mystery; been inordinately proud of a new set of fonts; published pieces by 11 guest authors; and laughed all the way to the bank. Except the last one.

We thought we’d take this opportunity to gather together some of the best bits of the first six months of this venture, and reflect on what’s gone wrong and what’s gone right.