The Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering celebrates innovation in engineering with an annual prize awarded to some of the world’s top engineers. Starting today, the QEPrize YouTube channel will be hosting a Month of Making, with a video each day supplied by a different STEM person (including some mathematicians!), encouraging you to make, instead of buy, at least one Christmas present this year.
The month has been organised by physics teacher and STEM communicator Alom Shaha (who recently featured on our Mathematical Objects podcast). Alom says:
I want other people to experience the joy I find in “making” by encouraging them to make stuff for the people in their lives. Christmas feels like the perfect time to do this and, with the help of the people behind the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, I’ve somehow managed to recruit a bunch of incredibly creative and talented people to share some ideas for things you could make. Over the course of the next month or so, from 15 November to 12 December, we’ll be publishing a series of videos with simple instructions for making a range of gifts, from simple machines to pieces of jewellery.
Here’s all the latest, and slightly later, news from the past month.
Awards & Prizes
Mathematician Professor Christina Pagel has been given a Special Recognition Award for Public Engagement in Science during the Covid 19 Pandemic by the BMJ (British Medical Journal). Throughout the pandemic, she’s been explaining and interpreting scientific papers, data, and news reports, helping to boost understanding and transparency through in-depth Twitter threads, TV news appearances and pieces in and print and online media. BMJ website list of winners – UCL press release
A new £560 million numeracy scheme, ‘Multiply’, has been announced as part of the recent budget to support up to 500,000 adults with low numeracy. The scheme includes free courses for adults without a GCSE Grade C/4 in maths, and programmes for employers to bring in training for at-work qualifications. National Numeracy press release – Information on Government Education Hub
The annual Big MathsJam Gathering will be taking place online on the weekend of 20th & 21st November, and bookings will open imminently – head to the Gathering website to add yourself to the list to be notified when it does. Tickets will cost £10 (£5 unwaged) for a weekend of talks, discussion, sharing and puzzles on spatial audio platform Gather.town. As well as thinking about what you might like to submit a 5-minute talk about, you can prepare for the MathsJam activities including a mathematical bakeoff, a Competition Competition and the MathsJam Jam sing-a-long, which this year will involve recording yourself singing a track along with others, to listen back to the combined recordings on the day – details on the website, with a submission deadline of 12th November.
Excellent maths interactives website and online ‘textbook of the future’ Mathigon has been acquired by US education publisher Amplify. According to the Mathigon press release, “Mathigon’s beautiful, interactive online learning platform will continue to be offered for free and will strengthen Amplify’s math offerings.”
Quanta Magazine reports, beautifully as always, that there’s been some progress on the n-Queens problem, which is about finding how many different ways queens can be placed on a chessboard so that none attack each other. Since the problem is difficult to simplify, it’s historically been a case of crunching through all the possibilities, but the new breakthrough pinpoints the number of positions on an n-by-n board by sandwiching it between upper and lower bounds that now coincide.
According to Science News, “An elusive equation describing bird eggs of all shapes has been found at last”. Now, if you simply know the egg’s length, its maximum breadth, its diameter at the spot where its pointed end terminates and the location of its maximum diameter in relationship to the midpoint of its length, you can calculate its volume. An elusive equation describing bird eggs of all shapes has been found at last, on Science News (via Rachel Crowell)
Here’s a collection of some things that have been happening (and will be happening) in maths this month (and next month).
The British Society for the History of Mathematics have announced their annual Neil Bibby Awards, which have been awarded to Ciarán Mac an Bhaird and Michael Barany. The award winners receive £400 each, and will be expected to deliver some schools talks and produce resources for the BHSM website. More information about the Bibby Awards can be found on the BSHM website. (via @MathsHistory on Twitter).
The British Society for the History of Mathematics have also announced the winners of their annual schools and undergraduate essay prizes:
Schools Writing Prize (11-15 category): Daria Gal (Notting Hill and Ealing High School, London) for ‘Mathematics and the mysterious world of creating gold’;
Schools Writing Prize winner for 2021 (category 16-19): Carys Williams (Monmouth School for Girls, UK) for ‘A story of secrecy and security: the key to unlocking prime numbers’;
Undergraduate Prize winners, jointly: Ellen Flower (Oxford University) for ‘The “analysis” of a century: Influences on the etymological development of the word “analysis” in a mathematical context to 1750’ and George Waters (London School of Economics) for ‘Exploring the use of mathematics to obtain consensus’.
Carnegie Mellon University has been gifted $20 million by blockchain pioneer Charles Hoskinson to establish the Hoskinson Center for Formal Mathematics. The center will be part of Dietrich College and will “advance mathematical research by improving global access to knowledge and resources for mathematics researchers, educators and learners”. For more information read the press release here. (via @KevinZollman on Twitter).
This coming Ada Lovelace Day, Tuesday 12 October, the organisers of Ada Lovelace Day live are putting on a series of online webinars on topics including engineering, tech and games, and the science of hypersleep. Tickets are free, and the events will be streamed live on YouTube and Facebook.
It’s finally happening! The UK’s first hands-on maths discovery centre, MathsCity, will be opening in Leeds on 5th October. Open from 10am-5pm Tuesday-Sunday, in Leeds Trinity Shopping Centre, the mathematical wonderland will include giant bubbles, a laser ‘ring of fire’ and puzzles to solve. Go go go! (via @MathsCityLeeds on Twitter).
On 15th October, the Royal Irish Academy is hosting the Hamilton Lecture 2021, featuring Professor Caroline Series, who’ll be talking about Glimpses in Hyperbolic Geometry. The lecture will take place online, followed by a Q&A, and tickets are free but booking is required. And look, they did such a cool poster (above)!
Here’s a round-up of mathematical and maths-adjacent things that happened in the world this month-and-a-half.
New record calculation of π – a team in Switzerland have calculated π to a record accuracy of 62.8 trillion digits (that’s around 10 tau trillion – a masterful troll). For more background, read New mathematical record: what’s the point of calculating pi? in the Guardian, which strikes a nice balance between understanding that π is important but that this kind of record-setting is largely stamp collecting.
P vs NP proof – Logician Martin Dowd is claiming a proof of P≠NP “using a Godel diagonalization argument involving representing formulas”. As per @HigherGeometer’s tweet, mathematicians will be looking for the ‘nearly inevitable slip’, and we’ll report it here if we notice an announcement, probably.
Awards news – This year’s Royal Society Medals have been awarded, and recipients include Prof. Frances Kirwan who has been awarded the Sylvester Medal “for her research on quotients in algebraic geometry, including links with symplectic geometry and topology, which has had many applications”, and Prof. June Barrow-Green who receives the Wilkins-Bernal-Medawar Medal and Lecture “for her research in 19th and 20th century mathematics, notably on historical roots of modern computing, dynamical systems and the three-body problem. Her work places special emphasis on the under-representation of women in historical narratives and in contemporary mathematics.”
Maths competition award nominations – The World Federation of National Mathematics Competitions has put out a call for nominations for the Erdos Award 2022, which recognises the contributions of “mathematicians who have played a significant role in the development of mathematical challenges at the national or international level and which have been a stimulus for the enrichment of mathematics learning”. If you know someone who runs maths competitions and deserves an award, it’d be great to see some more UK winners!
Win a free Schools Workshop – ICMS and Maths Week Scotland are excited to announce a 2021 School Workshop competition, in which Scottish secondary schools can register themselves on the Maths Week Scotland website and enter to win an interactive virtual maths workshop delivered by Ben Sparks or Katie Steckles (that’s me), during Maths Week Scotland.
Nira vs Specsavers – We previously reported on Nira Chamberlain’s social media crusades to stop brands from being flippant about maths – and it looks like he’s had some more success. Following his complaint about an unhelpful leaflet put out by Specsavers (in which algebra was described as ‘silly’ and used as a throwaway example of something hard) they’ve responded to him personally and withdrawn the leaflet.
Gathering For Gardner is postponed again – with a heavy heart, the organisers of Gathering For Gardner 14 have made the tough call, in light of “the continuing worsening of the COVID-19 situation in Georgia, with record-breaking numbers of infections, and an increase in hospitalizations throughout the state”, to postpone this year’s event to 2022. Tickets already booked can be transferred to next year’s event or fully refunded.