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Aperiodical News Roundup – August and half of September 2021

Here’s a round-up of mathematical and maths-adjacent things that happened in the world this month-and-a-half.

Mathematical News

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.

Illustration showing a graph against a purple background, with certain vertices and edges highlighted in orange.
Image: Quanta Magazine

Odd subgraphs result – There’s also a nice writeup in Quanta of a new proof confirming a fact about odd graphs (that every graph has a subgraph at least $\frac{1}{10000}$ of its own size that contains entirely odd vertices).

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.

Prime Gap now down to 20 – Another claimed proof, this time by arithmetic geometer Chunlei Liu, confirming that there are infinitely many primes at most 20 apart – an improvement on prior work by Zhang/Polymath8/Tao/Maynard, and using a similar method.

Events & Awards

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.”

Photo of Prof. Frances Kirwan in a lecture theatre, beside a photo of Prof. June Barrow-Green next to a mathematical sculpture
Prof. Frances Kirwan (left, photo: Gert-Martin Greuel) & Prof. June Barrow-Green (right, photo: Renate Schmid)

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.

And Finally

Photograph showing a pamphlet in Specsavers branding colours with the text "Algebra is hard / Contact lenses aren't // Free trial for all ages" resting on someone's knee
Photo: @Runningstitch on Twitter

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.

Aperiodical News Roundup – July 2021

Here’s a round-up of the latest mathematical news from the month of July 2021.

Awards

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.

And since we’re talking about mathematicians winning awards, mathematician Anna Kiesenhofer has been awarded a gold medal in the women’s cycling road race at the Tokyo Olympics. For more information, read her 2016 paper Noncommutative integrable systems on b-symplectic manifolds (actually, it may not mention the Olympics at all, sorry).

Research

Controlled study shows link between musical and mathematical ability. The paper is published in the Journal of Research in Music Education. (via MAA)

Laurent Fargues and Fields Medalist Peter Scholze have created “a long-desired bridge between the arithmetic and geometric sides of the Langlands program”, warranting a writeup in the always-excellent Quanta Magazine. (Via @KSHartnett)

Events

If one science communication video contest run by a famous YouTuber this year wasn’t enough, Grant Sanderson (aka 3blue1brown) is running a Summer of Math Exposition. Submit an “explainer of math” to be in with a chance of a $1,000 prize. Imagine the Big Internet Math-Off, but with less voting and an actual prize. Grant announced the competition with a video titled “Why aren’t you making math videos?”:

Because we’re tired, Grant. We’re so tired.

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.

Other news

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 IMA has announced they’re forming an alliance to create new professional standards for data science.

“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.


Robert Moses, founder of math literacy promotion charity The Algebra Project, has died. The announcement on the project website includes a moving tribute:

“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.”


Brands are at it again with their weird unnecessary anti-maths schtick: take this recent effort from Specsavers in which they state algebra is hard (which it can be sometimes), but also imply it’s ‘silly’, which is pretty short-sighted of them (LOL). Also this month, IMA President and World’s Most Interesting Mathematician Nira Chamberlain has been hassling sofa chain DFS about their TV commercial in which a boy shouts ‘I HATE MATHS’ repeatedly – which may actually have resulted in a change to the broadcast version (and good work if so!). It turns out that calling out this kind of thing sometimes gets results.

And finally, it’s been anounced that the theme for the International Day of Mathematics 2022 will be “Mathematics Unites” (via Nalini Joshi).

Aperiodical News Roundup – June 2021

Here’s a round-up of mathematical things that happened in June, and things you might want to know about that are happening in the future!

News

News In Brief

Thumbnail of Veritasium video 'A Physics Prof Bet Me $10,000 I'm wrong' with an image of the two physicists and the caption 'Who's right'
  • 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)

Alan Turing £50 note launches

On 23rd June the new Alan Turing £50 note was launched, featuring an image of Turing, a quote and various mathematical diagrams. Bletchley Park marked the occasion with a #Turing50Takeover, and the Bank of England has a whole page of info about the new polymer note on their website.

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!

Computer graphic Enigma machine on a table.
Virtual Enigma Machine

Claimed proof of Riemann Hypothesis

Another claimed proof of the Riemann Hypothesis, this time by Kumar Easwaran, emerged this month, and since like all big claims it would need thorough checking before acceptance by the mathematical community, there was some initial skepticism. (This didn’t stop the media from latching on to it as an exciting story though). Since claimed proofs of Riemann are like buses, many mathematicians don’t give them much attention, but Alex Kontorovich took the time to thoroughly debunk this one to save you the trouble.

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”.

Interesting Links

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 Royal Society has published a set of papers on modelling that shaped the early COVID-19 pandemic response in the UK as a special journal issue that’s free to access.

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)

Events

Sir Michael Atiyah holding a microphone
Sir Michael Atiyah (image: INI)

The Isaac Newton Institute in Cambridge is hosting The unity of mathematics: A conference in honour of Sir Michael Atiyah which will take place in September 2021 as a hybrid event with a mixture of in-person and virtual talks. The closing date for registration for physical participants is 8th August.

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.

Konstantin Kotov holding a sign with a photo of Azat Miftakhov and a caption in Russian
Konstantin Kotov protesting in support of Azat Miftakhov in Moscow (CC BY-SA Natdemina)

Alexandre Borovik reports on his blog about Azat Miftakhov day, an event organised online by the Azat Miftakhov committee in solidarity with Azat Miftakhov – a graduate student from Moscow State University who was sentenced to six years in a medium-security penal colony and has already been arbitrarily detained by Russian state authorities for almost two and a half years. Fields medalist Cedric Villani made a speech at the event, and you can watch videos from the event on YouTube.

Aperiodical News Roundup – May 2021

Here’s a round-up of mathematical news from the month of May.

The film Words of Women in Mathematics in the Time of Corona showcases the words of 86 women of mathematics from 37 countries, speaking in 25 languages, on their experience during the pandemic. The project website says:

This pandemic has indeed made women, and in particular women in mathematics, more invisible than ever and we hope that this project will contribute to letting them be heard and seen.

(via Tony Mann)


Mathematician, IMA president and one-time World’s Most Interesting Mathematician Nira Chamberlain appeared on Jim Al-Khalili’s excellent radio show The Life Scientific, and talked about how mathematics can solve real-world problems.


The adventures of Mathina. An illustration showing two children in a rural landscape, with a castle in the distance. Two buttons, labelled "Start Exploring!" and "Introduction"

Mathina is an interactive story book, “based on story-driven experiences, in which children and young learners encounter fictional characters that find themselves in mathematical adventures”. It looks cool! (via Martin Skrodzki)


I is a Strange Loop is a theatrical play, written and performed by mathematician Marcus du Sautoy and mathematician/actor Victoria Gould (formerly Polly off Eastenders). A performance was streamed live on 25th May, and available to watch back on the Oxford Uni maths YouTube channel. The script of the play is also available to buy in book form.


Jean-Michel Bismut and Jeff Cheeger

The winners of the Shaw Prize, “an international award to honour individuals who have recently achieved distinguished and significant advances in their respective fields”, have been announced for 2021, including the Shaw Prize in Mathematical Sciences. This is awarded in equal shares to Prof Jean-Michel Bismut and Prof Jeff Cheeger (pictured right, floating in an abstract mathematical universe), “for their remarkable insights that have transformed, and continue to transform, modern geometry”.


And finally, Turkish mathematician Tuna Altinel has his passport back after two years of fighting the Turkish courts. Altinel was detained by Turkish authorities and his passport confiscated on the grounds of “membership in a terrorist organisation”, due to his attempts to promote peace and support human rights as part of the group Academics for Peace.

More information in this piece from Inside Higher Ed

See also: The case of Azat Miftakhov.

(via Jordan Ellenberg on Twitter)

Aperiodical News Roundup – April 2021

Top news this month: Pure mathematicians at Leicester have opened a GoFundMe to pay for legal support in their fight to keep their jobs. The London Mathematical society has published a letter making the case for pure maths at Leicester, and there’s a petition you can sign.

Culture

Hannah Fry has a new TV show about maths and sport, on BT Sport and YouTube, called It’s A Numbers Game (or IT’S A NUMB3R5 GAME, if you believe the logo). She’s joined by Pippa Monique, Ugo Monye, Andrew Mensah and Dr Nick Owen. It’s on each Saturday on both BT Sport and YouTube. There are some resources for kids aged 5 to 14 on Twinkl, to go with the show.

Erasmus EUR2 coin

Awards

Dr. Marie Davidian is the recipient of the 2021 Marvin Zelen Leadership Award in Statistical Science. (via Harvard Biostatistics)

UK mathematicians Yuhka Machino and Jenni Voon earned gold medals at the 2021 European Girls’ Mathematical Olympiad, and the UK team as a whole finished third. (via the UK Mathematics Trust)

Events

The Institute of Mathematics and its Applications is again running a series of online talks.

The first talk at the 6th May event will be from Nick Higham who has been awarded the Gold Medal award in recognition of outstanding contributions to mathematics and its applications. This will be followed by Jane Leeks and David Abrahams discussing future developments in mathematical sciences knowledge exchange.

There will be a couple more talks on the 25th of May to do with modelling and Covid-19.

More information: IMA Mathematics Online series


The London Mathematical Society is offering two summer placements – a Library and Special Collections Summer Placement (working with the LMS’s special collections) and an Equality and Diversity – Success Stories Placement (putting together profiles of successful mathematicians), both of which are paid hourly at three days a week for 8 weeks over the summer, and would suit prospective postgraduates with an undergraduate degree.

More information: Jobs at the LMS


The International Congress of Mathematicians is running a surprising maths videos contest. Prizes include a grant to attend ICM 2022 in St Petersburg, which won’t be much use to LGBT+ mathematicians, whose existence in Russia is illegal, or Azat Miftakhov, a student at Moscow State University who has been detained by Russian authorities for two years. If that doesn’t faze you, the ICM has produced an example of a surprising maths video:

Proof news

Kelsey Houston-Edwards writes in Quanta magazine about a proof of the Erdős-Faber-Lovász conjecture on colouring hypergraphs. The preprint by Dong Yeap Kang, Tom Kelly, Daniela Kühn, Abhishek Methuku and Deryk Osthus is available on the arXiv.

Also in Quanta magazine (if you can pay people to write maths news, they write maths news! Who knew?), Erica Klarreich writes about a counterexample to the unit conjecture on group algebras, presented at the end of a talk by Giles Gardam, and Steve Nadis writes about a recent proof of a special case of the Erdős-Hajnal conjecture in graph theory. That guy Erdős sure made a lot of conjectures.

Over on the mersenneforum.org, where seekers of new and exciting prime numbers hang out, it’s been reported that a new probable prime repunit has been found – it’s got a record 5794777 decimal digits, all of which are the digit 1. (via Ed Pegg)

Other news

Version 3.0 of SnapPy, program for studying the topology and geometry of 3-manifolds, has been released. (via Jordan Ellenberg)

Early Family Math is a new free maths resource website for children from 6 months to 6 years old. At the moment it has a lot of resources for activities, and some maths story books. They say that videos are forthcoming.

And finally, there’s a fundraiser for Mathematicians of the African Diaspora, which hosts the largest searchable database of mathematical scientists of the African Diaspora in the world, and is looking for funding to expand its database and reach a wider audience so it can continue to inspire the next generation of Black mathematicians. (via Edray Goins)

Aperiodical News Roundup – March 2021

Here’s a round-up of some maths news we didn’t yet write about this month.

Awards

László Lovász and Avi Wigderson

This month the Abel Prize committee announced this year’s award will go to László Lovász and Avi Wigderson “for their foundational contributions to theoretical computer science and discrete mathematics, and their leading role in shaping them into central fields of modern mathematics.” The prize will be handed over at a ceremony in May. You can read more about this year’s prize on the Abel Prize website.

Cheryl Praeger has been awarded the inaugural Ruby Payne-Scott Medal for her mathematical work on symmetry and developing algorithms that help power technology around the world. Named after pioneering Australian radio astronomer Ruby Payne-Scott, the medal recognises exceptional researchers in physical and biological sciences and is awarded by the Australian Academy of Science.

The Royal Society of Edinburgh has announced its list of 2021 Fellows, which includes mathematicians Paul Glendinning, Tara Brendle and Bernd Schroers.

Turing banknote
Image: Bank of England

And since we haven’t reported enough Alan Turing news, the design for the new Alan Turing £50 note has been revealed. GCHQ have released a series of puzzles linked to the design (presumably looking to find the next Alan Turing, so they can put whoever it is on the £100 note a century from now).

Visit the Turing Challenge website to throw your hat in.

Events & Websites

The IMA are running a What it’s like to study Mathematics at University?’ Conference online on 14th April – with speakers including researchers, maths teachers and A-level students, the event will explore what being a student mathematician entails and how to take it further into a career. For ages 16+, it’s free to attend and you can register online.

From the people who brought you the WayBack Machine, the Internet Archive Scholar includes over 25 million research articles and other scholarly documents preserved in the Internet Archive. The collection includes everything from digitised copies of eighteenth century journals through to the latest Open Access conference proceedings and pre-prints crawled from the World Wide Web.

Screenshot of the Her Maths Story website

The newly launched Her Maths Story website collects stories of women mathematicians from all over the world, and includes photos and pithy quotes – it’ll be a useful resource if you want to showcase real mathematicians and their varied backgrounds and careers.

Other news

Rob Eastaway has written a lovely blog post about statistician John Haigh, who passed away on 9th March. Rob also recommends John’s book Taking Chances: Winning with Probability.

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