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Best way to explain topology: now officially ‘using baked goods’

Nobel Prize news!

The 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to a trio of physicists: Michael Kosterlitz, Duncan Haldane and David Thouless“for theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter”.

And here’s the maths angle – their work is in the field of topological physics, which relates strange matter (superconductors, superfluids and the like) to topology, via the interesting way the properties of the materials change in phases, like the different fundamental shapes of objects in topology. None of the material we’ve taken a cursory glance at so far yields a simple explanation of how these two things are linked, but they have explanatory PDFs on the Nobel website if you’d like a dig around: Popular (PDF) and Advanced (PDF).

Also, impressively many newspaper headlines seem to have failed to notice that ‘strange matter’ is actually a thing in physics, and consequently mangled it in their explanations.

Cue of course an amazing press conference in which Nobel Committee for Physics member Thors Hans Hansson holds up a bun, a bagel and a pretzel to explain the difference. Classic topology.

More information

Official Nobel press release

British scientists win Nobel prize in physics for work so baffling it had to be described using bagels, at The Telegraph (bonus points for ‘Noble prize’ typo, if it’s not been corrected yet)

Physics prize explanations on the Nobel website: Popular (PDF) and Advanced (PDF)


New Twin Primes found


Collaborative prime number searching website PrimeGrid has announced its most recent discovery: on 14th September, user Tom Greer discovered a new pair of twin primes (primes which differ by 2), namely:

\[2996863034895 \times 2^{1290000} \pm 1\]

Found using PrimeGrid’s Sophie Germain Prime search, the new discoveries are 388,342 digits long, smashing the previous twin prime record of 200,700 digits.

PrimeGrid is a collaborative project (similar to GIMPS, which searches for specifically Mersenne Primes) in which anyone who downloads their software can donate their unused CPU time to prime searching. It’s been the source of many recent prime number discoveries, including several in the last few months which rank in the top 160 largest known primes.

The University of Tennessee Martin’s Chris Caldwell maintains a database of the largest known primes, to which the new discovery has been added.

Further Reading

Press release from PrimeGrid (PDF)
The List of Largest Known Primes
PrimeGrid website
The new twin primes’ entries on the List of Largest Known Primes: n+1, n-1

The University of Leicester is going to sack its whole maths department (and rehire some of them)


The University of Leicester says it’s facing a big budget deficit, so it’s got to make some cuts. In the current British climate, that’s nothing unusual. However, the university has decided to cut a lot more from the maths department than elsewhere.

The way they’re going to do this is to sack almost everyone, then ask them to re-apply for slightly fewer jobs than there were before. Once it’s all done, 6 of the 21 mathematicians currently working at Leicester will be out of a job.

There’s some speculation that the reason that maths is going to be hit particularly hard is that it didn’t do particularly well in the last iterations of the REF and the National Student Survey.

The Universities and Colleges Union has started a petition against the cuts, disputing the size of the deficit and the need for so many job losses. They’ve written a response laying out their side of the story. The European Mathematical Society has also said it’s very concerned.

Tim Gowers has written a bit more about what he thinks is going on on his blog. As usual, there’s some good discussion in the comments as well.

via Yemon Choi

Maths at the British Science Festival 2016


Next week, the British Science Festival will take place in Swansea, in and around the University. Here’s our round-up of all the mathsiest of the maths events taking place during the week. Our own Katie Steckles will be there introducing most of these events, so you might spot her at the front telling you what to do if there’s a fire. You’ll need to register to book tickets, but all the events are free.

New MathJax accessibility extensions provide collapsible expressions and maths-to-speech

MathJax, the web library that provides LaTeX-quality mathematical typesetting, has received a a new set of tools to improve accessibility of mathematical notation. The new MathJax Accessibility Extensions add on-the-fly speech rendering of notation, and a tool to explore expressions through intelligent collapsing and expanding of sub-expressions.