Alan Turing’s research in the latter part of his life focused, among other things, on morphogensis – particularly of animal pattern formation. According to a King’s College London press release, Turing “put forward the idea that regular repeating patterns in biological systems are generated by a pair of morphogens that work together as an ‘activator’ and ‘inhibitor'”. Now researchers at Kings have provided experimental evidence to confirm this theory. This study:
not only demonstrates a mechanism which is likely to be widely relevant in vertebrate development, but also provides confidence that chemicals called morphogens, which control these patterns, can be used in regenerative medicine to differentiate stem cells into tissue.
The press release quotes Dr Jeremy Green from the Department of Craniofacial Development at King’s Dental Institute saying:
“Regularly spaced structures, from vertebrae and hair follicles to the stripes on a tiger or zebrafish, are a fundamental motif in biology. There are several theories about how patterns in nature are formed, but until now there was only circumstantial evidence for Turing’s mechanism. Our study provides the first experimental identification of an activator-inhibitor system at work in the generation of stripes – in this case, in the ridges of the mouth palate.
“Although important in feeling and tasting food, ridges in the mouth are not of great medical significance. However, they have proven extremely valuable here in validating an old theory of the activator-inhibitor model first put forward by Alan Turing in the 50s.
“Not only does this show us how patterns such as stripes are formed, but it provides confidence that these morphogens (chemicals) can be used in future regenerative medicine to regenerate structure and pattern when differentiating stem cells into other tissues.”
Source: Scientists prove Turing’s tiger stripe theory.
Dara O’Briain has written a piece for the Telegraph’s numeracy campaign. Dara, as he explains, has “a deep passion for maths and physics”, having studied mathematical physics at University College, Dublin prior to starting his career in comedy.
Dara writes about maths and “cool”.
I’m often asked to speak about science, in the vain hope that the perceived “cool” of entertainment will somehow rub off onto the science and make it more alluring. Nothing like a heavy, bald 40-year-old to make something “cool”.
Listen. Maths is never going to be “cool”, other than to the sizeable rump of destined-to-love-it-no-matter-how-it’s-presented kids who are like I was at 15.
He argues that maths should be compulsory in schools, like PE, because it is good for pupils, giving both pragmatic – “exercise for the brain” – arguments and philosophical ones. The latter is likely to more attractive here:
Maths is one of the greatest achievements of humanity. It is the common language of science; it has allowed us to drag ourselves from ignorance by creating communal knowledge, which in turn enables us to master our world and to understand our universe. Maths teaches us to spot patterns, to predict behaviour and the steps of an argument. Maths is, above all, a way of approaching problems – stripping things down, extracting the relevant information, and then solving them.
Improving numeracy, Dara says, is more than just enabling people “to be faster at calculating the cost of the weekly shop”, citing the use of statistics in “a world of claim and counterclaim”.
Maths reform campaign: Sum up: you’ll hang on to your knighthood.
EPSRC has announced the next set of decisions under its controversial “Shaping capabilities” programme. Under this, according to a story in Times Higher Education, the Research Council:
has divided its portfolio into 111 subject areas and is mulling over whether to increase, maintain or reduce funding for each of them according to their research excellence and existing capacity, as well as their national importance.
The first round of decisions provoked controversy last July when “EPSRC decided that it would not accept applications for research fellowships in any area of the mathematical sciences except statistics and applied probability, until further notice”.
Now, according to Times Higher Education, the second set of decisions are confined to energy, ICT and engineering. Most areas will be maintained, but seven will grow. The only reductions are in biological informatics, and in hydrogen and alternative energy.
EPSRC has deferred until the end of March more decisions on which areas of mathematics and physical sciences will grow or shrink.
Times Higher Education: EPSRC rolls out 31 shapes but puts off decisions on the difficult subjects.
Steve Mills, senior vice president at IBM recently boasted the company was the world’s largest employer of PhD mathematicians. It is not certain whether this is true but interesting to see them making the boast.
According to a story at cio.co.uk, Mills said:
if IBM can do analytics for a power grid, it can also do them for a water supply company and transportation system. They all intersect, he said, “We build a knowledge base one on top another.” IBM is investing in areas such as astrophysics, weather forecasting and genomics “because of the intersections and overlaps with our core business,” Mills said.
“In many cases it is the same maths, it’s not like someone has invented new fields of mathematics,” he said.
Source: IBM claims most PhD mathematicians in its employ.
As part of the Telegraph numeracy campaign “Making Britain Count”, Matt Parker’s second set of puzzles are online. This time they are themed around prime numbers.
Telegraph: Numeracy campaign: More maths puzzles by Matt Parker.
A new episode of the Math/Maths Podcast has been released.
A conversation about mathematics between the UK and USA from Pulse-Project.org. This week Samuel and Peter spoke about: The Recent Difficulties with RSA; Do we need a maths museum?; Brian Schmidt’s Mathematical Arguement; IBM claims most PhD mathematicians in its employ; Maths grads teaching alert; John Nash’s Letters to the NSA; The mathematical equation that caused the banks to crash; Rapunzel’s Number: Science behind ponytail revealed; EPSRC Shaping Capabilities; Maths Jam; & more.
Get this episode: “Math/Maths 86: Complex Pony Tails“