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.
The team that brought you the 24 Hour Maths Magic Show last October are at it again, and are planning a semi-regular evening YouTube variety show called Clopen Mic Night, with short segments from a selection of mathematical guests, including comedy, music, demonstrations, magic, puzzles and art, showcasing some top maths communicators and hopefully providing a fun night in. The event is supported by Talking Maths in Public, a network for maths communicators based in the UK, and this first show will take place alongside their 2021 conference event.
It’s called Clopen Mic Night because it’s both an open mic night (in the sense that you’ll see a variety of different people doing different things) and a closed mic night (in that the organisers curate the line-up to ensure a variety of quality acts). If you’ve not encountered the concept of a clopen set, it describes a set that is both open and closed. Usually things are clopen for tedious technical reasons – the empty set and the whole set are both trivially clopen, and most interesting examples crop up in awkwardly-defined sets with non-standard topologies and distance metrics.
The first event is taking place on Thursday 26th August, from 8-9pm, on my YouTube channel, and you can watch along for free, join in with the chat, and drop a coin in our virtual tip bucket if you like what you see. This will hopefully be the first of many such shows (assuming it all goes well!) and for future shows we’ll be looking for acts to join us – anyone participating will also be able to get advice and feedback on their bit in various ways, and we’re hoping it’ll be a chance for people to try out fun new material and showcase the best maths communication has to offer.
For more information about the show, including the lineup for this first event, you can visit the Clopen Mic Night website and sign up for a reminder before each show so you don’t miss it. For updates on future events and how to apply to perform (once that becomes a thing), check the @ClopenMic twitter account.
Here’s a round-up of the latest mathematical news from the month of July 2021.
The Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, SIAM, has announced the winners of its 2021 prizes. Winners include: student paper prizes to Yingjie Be, Michelle Feng and Yuanzhao Zhang; the George Pólya Prize for Mathematical Exposition to Nick Higham; and the John von Neumann prize to Chi-Wang Shu.
The Institute of Mathematics and its Applications, the IMA, has also announced some prize winners.
Professor Caroline Series has been awarded the 2021 IMA-LMS David Crighton Medal, “in recognition of her fundamental and beautiful results connecting geometry and dynamical systems, and her outstanding service to the mathematical community, including her pioneering work to support the careers of women in mathematics.” This medal is awarded every two years for services to mathematics and the mathematical community.
The IMA Black Heroes of Mathematics 2021 conference will take place on the 5th and 6th of October. The vision of the conference is “To celebrate the inspirational contributions of Black role models to the field of Mathematics and Mathematics Education”. The event will include technical talks by internationally renowned Black speakers, incorporating details of their career paths and experience.
The Protect Pure Maths Campaign, funded by private donations and run by a PR firm in collaboration with the London Mathematical Society, aims to promote and protect pure mathematics research. The family of Alan Turing have added their support to the campaign, to protect what is described in this article in the Guardian as ‘blue skies maths’.
“The Alliance for Data Science Professionals is defining the standards needed to ensure an ethical and well-governed approach so the public, organisations and governments can have confidence in how their data is used.”
The alliance consists of the Royal Statistical Society (RSS), BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, the Operational Research Society, the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications, The Alan Turing Institute and the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), supported by the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society.
“His transition to that higher level only inspires us all to love, struggle and live with and for our people as he did, as we continue to work to realize Bob’s vision of “raising the floor of mathematics literacy” for all young people in the United States of America.”
YouTuber and PhD physicist Derek Muller (Veritasium) has recently been involved in a physics-off with UCLA professor Alexander Kusenko, when they disagreed over the explanation behind a physical phenomenon, which escalated to a $10,000 bet over who was right. Long story short, Veritasium won the bet (as covered in this IFLScience news story) and will be using the money to fund a science communication contest. If you’ve got an under-a-minute maths/science video you can post on YouTube or TikTok, you could win a prize of up to $5,000. Props to Derek for encouraging more STEM communication and promoting new talent!
It’s been formally announced that Neil Sloane is stepping down as president of the OEIS – Russ Cox will take over presidential duties, while Sloane steps down to Chairman of the Board so he can dedicate more time to his writing projects (which we’re assured ‘naturally involve sequences’). Cox has been involved with the OEIS for over 25 years and has been a major contributor to the backend software that makes the site run, so he’s a safe pair of hands to take the project on.
The eleven 2021 LMS Prize winners were announced at the Society’s Meeting on 2nd July, and the prizes recognise contributions to mathematics in a variety of areas. (via @LondMathSoc)
Meanwhile, in Turing-adjacent news, the National Museum of Computing has launched an online Virtual Enigma machine you can use to simulate the device behind the famous Enigma code, along with a video explaining the machine. This joins a host of other virtual historical computers they’ve built, including the Colossus that cracked the code, the Lorenz machine and even ERNIE the random number generator!
If you want some actual Riemann Hypothesis news, here’s some: John Baez reports that Alain Connes and Caterina Consani have made some potential progress on part of the problem. In the words of Baez, “my interest is piqued”.
Thuses is a website for mathematicians to publish and discuss ideas of interest to the mathematical community. It’s described as “a perfect place to share new approaches, slick proofs, and surprising counterexamples. A place for ‘folklore results’ that are considered known but don’t actually exist in literature. A place for everything in math that just has to be shared.” (via Piper H)
The BSHM (British Society for the History of Mathematics) has launched the Bibby Awards in the History of Mathematics, for “contributions to the popularization of the history of mathematics in education”. Named after (and funded by the legacy of) the late BSHM member Neil Bibby, up to four awards of £400 can be made each academic year, in return for which holders are expected to give two free talks in schools and produce four digital resources (videos, PDFs or interactives) for the BSHM website. (via Sarah Hart)
There’s just about still time to register for the People, Places, Practices History of Maths Conference (registration closes 9th July) taking place 12-15 July online (coordinated by the University of St. Andrews). With around 90 speakers contributing, the programme looks packed, and talks will be available to watch ahead, or at the specified time to be followed by a live Q&A.