The #plottertwitter hashtag is a constant source of inspiration, where people around the world share pictures of the amazing, beautiful things they’ve made their pen plotters draw, often with the AxiDraw plotter, which differs from mine in that nobody seems to have had to attach 200g of batteries as ballast to the pen holder to overcome friction on the knacky sliding rail.

The basic idea of a pen plotter is that the pen holder is free to move in the plane, constrained by the lengths of the two axes. If there’s a pen in the holder and paper underneath as it moves, then a drawing happens. The pen holder can move up and down, to lift the pen away from the paper so it can move without drawing.

The instructions you can give the plotter are quite straightforward: move in a straight line to these coordinates; move the pen up or down; move back to the ‘home’ position. It’s a lot like the turtle drawing robot I played with in primary school.

You can either directly write a list of instructions for the plotter, or write some code that takes a vector image and produces a corresponding set of instructions. SVG is a widely-used vector graphics format, so it’s a common choice of input for pen plotters.

So I was playing around with my pen plotter, getting it to draw space-filling curves and geometrical diagrams, when I decided that I should get it to draw text. It turns out that there are a few ready-made “fonts” for plotters that give paths to write letters with strokes instead of filling in shapes, so that was nice and easy.

But then I wanted to write mathematical notation, and I remembered: MathJax has an SVG output! It didn’t take long to write a bit of JavaScript that takes some maths written in LaTeX and gets MathJax to produce the corresponding SVG code and insert it into the picture, ready for my plotter to draw.

The remaining problem is that MathJax’s fonts produces shapes that should be filled in, which is easy on a computer screen, but the pen plotter just draws their outlines. That’s not much of a problem, though: I just had to trace over the symbols in Inkscape, and replace each instance of a MathJax symbol with my single-stroke traced version.

There are squillions of symbols in the TeX fonts, and I didn’t want to have to trace them all before I could draw anything, so I decided to do it bit-by-bit. I added a step to my MathJax → SVG tool to capture any symbols in the output that hadn’t been traced yet and produce an SVG file I could load into Inkscape. After tracing over those symbols, my code absorbed them into its library of replacements. I wasn’t too careful to be precise with my traced symbols – I wanted it to look as much like handwriting as I could manage.

The fantastic thing about MathJax is that it does a lot of work to match its output with the size of the surrounding plain text, so the results looked really good straight away.

I decided to draw some mathematical postcards to send to my maths pals. On one side I drew a picture, and on the other side I wrote a passage of text about it, often with plenty of mathematical notation.

I’m particularly pleased with this formula for the length of a toilet roll, drawn from the paper *How long is my toilet roll? – a simple exercise in mathematical modelling* by Peter R. Johnston:

I’ve put all of my plotter-related code online. If you just want to make your own postcard, here’s a tool you can use to write a postcard with mathematical TeX.

]]>The Carnival rounds up maths blog posts from all over the internet, including some from our own Aperiodical. See our Carnival of Mathematics page for more information.

]]>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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

]]>*Geometry Juniors*, as it says on the tin, is aimed at a younger audience. Or rather, it’s aimed at parents or carers of a younger audience; it’s as much for starting conversations about geometry as it is for direct instruction or to bamboozle puzzle-solvers.

Luckily, I have a seven-year-old who loves maths. The book says 8 and upwards, but Bill isn’t likely to let an inequality like THAT stand in his way.

From the get-go, *Geometry Juniors* is engaging and open-ended: many of the questions are of the “what do you notice?” or “can you…?” type, while others are significantly more leading.

This could be a double-edged sword: as long as both readers have a positive attitude towards maths, it will lead to rich and rewarding conversations; if either party isn’t in the mood for a maths chat, this is not going to be much fun for them.

Luckily, Bill is always in the mood for a maths chat. Here’s his take:

Something I want to say about

Bill Russ, age 7Geometry Juniorsis that it is great for young children (like me) to learn about simple steps in maths.This book has lots of interesting questions and facts. I also like the amazing illustrations of the pets, characters and resources. I’d like to thank the author of this wonderful book and the illustrator.

The progression of topics is clear and well-thought-out, each chapter building on the ones before it — starting with basics like “which one doesn’t belong?” and the properties of shapes, and ending up with tools that would start to crack the average Geometry Snack. The facts littered through the book are calculated to appeal to kids (“a *discorectangle*? But that’s ridiculous!”) My one quibble with the otherwise brilliant illustrations is that some of the 3D questions are ambiguous and give different answers depending on whether you assume no cubes are hidden behind others.

*Geometry Juniors* is colourful, cheerful and thought-provoking; I especially love the pictures of occasionally-confused students disagreeing and asking questions and generally modelling good mathematical behaviour, making it easy for the reader to step in and say “I think she’s right” or “I disagree because…”.

This is a book carefully designed to help mini-mathematicians develop their curiosity, reasoning and geometric knowledge. I think it will work best for grown-ups with a reasonable idea of geometry to begin with, but the curious will also get a good deal out of it.

Geometry Juniors, by Ed Southall, is published by The Mathematical Association and at time of writing costs £10.

Colin received a free copy of the book to review it.

]]>Here’s a round-up of the latest mathematical news from the (perfectly rectangular) month of February.

The Teddy Rocks Maths Essay Competition is a joint venture between mathematician Tom Crawford and St Edmund Hall at the University of Oxford, which asks high-school students to explain their favourite mathematical topic in an essay aimed at a non-specialist audience. Cash prizes are available, and the winners will be showcased on Tom’s website. The closing date is Friday 26 March 2021 and the winners will be announced in April.

Teddy Rocks Maths essay competition for students, on the St Edmund college website

The Philippa Fawcett Internship Programme is a funded summer research programme intended for women and non-binary students in maths who who would like to gain first-hand experience as a researcher. 3 funded placements are available for Summer 2021 and the application deadline is 15th March.

Philippa Fawcett internship programme, on the Cambridge University website

The London Mathematical Society offers two £6,000 travel awards, funded by the Cecil King Memorial Foundation for early career mathematicians, to support a period of study or research abroad. The application deadline is 31 March.

Cecil King travel scholarships, on the LMS website

On 11th February we lost giant of Index theory Isadore Singer, whose work uniting maths and physics and lifelong commitment to teaching has had a profound impact.

Institute Professor Emeritus Isadore Singer, renowned mathematician who united math and physics, dies at 96, on the MIT website

An outsider to the field of geometry has made a breakthrough on a higher-dimensional geometry problem posed by the late Fields medalist Jean Bourgain back in the mid-1980s.

Statistics Postdoc Tames Decades-Old Geometry Problem, on Quanta Magazine

Chalkdust Magazine, the magazine for the mathematically curious, has picked out the shortlist for its annual Book of the Year award. The list includes some great recommendations, and they’re posting reviews of each book over the next few weeks with the winner being announced on 15th March.

Chalkdust Book of the Year 2020, on the Chalkdust website

Roni Malek, a retired science teacher with a laser cutter and an idea, has designed two brilliant sets of no-glue cardboard polyhedron models – edge only and full face versions. The pieces clip together satisfyingly and produce sturdy, aesthetically pleasing polyhedra (we were sent some to play with and they’re genuinely fun to build). He’s looking for backers to support his Kickstarter to get them manufactured at scale. For as little as £5 you can secure a set to play with, and rewards go up to multipacks containing a bunch of sets.

Fans of CBeebies’ legendary small childen’s numeracy powerhouse Numberblocks will be pleased to hear that the first episode of Series 5 will premiere next Monday, 8th March at 8.10am (also repeated in the afternoon and on iPlayer). The promotional tweet and replies from the show seem to hint that there might even be some non-integer based number/block action in the new series. We’ll be watching.

Following on from the success of their previous collaboration Here Come the Numbers, musical maths performer Kyle Evans has teamed up again with illustrator Hana Ayoob to produce another fab book of mathematical poetry, covering topics from probability to infinity. The book came out on 1st March, and they’re planning a launch party on Sunday 7th March (3-4pm UK time) – you can join the mailing list to be sent details by visiting Kyle’s website.

]]>The Carnival rounds up maths blog posts from all over the internet, including some from our own Aperiodical. See our Carnival of Mathematics page for more information.

]]>Registration is now open for the upcoming virtual Women and Non-Binary People in Mathematics conference funded by the LMS, taking place on 11th-12th February. The event is open to all mathematicians in all stages of their career and from any field, and is on MS Teams.

The LMS are also running their annual Women in Mathematics Day on 24th March, aiming to promote interest and careers in mathematics for women. Open to mathematicians of all genders, backgrounds and career stages, the event will include talks from academia and industry, a panel discussion and a poster competition with prizes.

For 2021’s International Day of Mathematics on 14th March, the theme is Mathematics for a Better World. The organisers have now launched their 2021 website, Mathematics for a Better World, which shows some cool applications of maths.

IDM are also holding a poster challenge linked to the theme, Mathematics for a Better World. The challenge is to create a poster that shows one way to make the world a little bit better using mathematics. The competition runs until 1st March.

Eureka, the recreational mathematics journal produced by the Cambridge University Mathematical Society The Archimedeans, has placed all of its old archive issues online so anyone can access them.

If you remember physical printed media from the Past Times and are a fan, you can order physical printed copies of Chalkdust Issues 11 & 12 through their website.

Numberphile creator **Brady Haran** and maths pioneer **Prof**. **Cheryl Praeger** are among those awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia, as part of this year’s Australia Day celebrations on 25th Jan.

• WA’s first female maths professor lands top award in Australia Day honours list, at ABC News

• Brady’s writeup about the award on his blog

Communications of the American Mathematical Society (CAMS) is a new, diamond open access journal designed to provide a home for the very best research and review articles across all areas of mathematics. CAMS will be a natural home for both pure and applied mathematics, presenting a window into a holistic view of mathematics and its applications to a wide range of disciplines. The AMS expects the journal to be a diverse and inclusive home for mathematicians around the world in support of emerging research. It is anticipated that the first published articles will appear in early 2021. For more information, visit the journal’s webpage.

*(via Ian Agol on Twitter)*

Three of the UK’s leading research institutes will be supported to widen access to mathematical sciences and support training through funding confirmed on 21st January. The Isaac Newton Institute (INI), the International Centre for Mathematical Sciences (ICMS) and the Heilbronn Institute for Mathematical Research (HIMR) will be able to support a wide range of education and training activities using the money.

The funding is part of the £300 million government investment in the Additional Funding Programme for Mathematical Sciences, announced in 2020.

Funding boost for mathematical sciences institutes, on the UKRI website

January 2021 funding increase: what does it mean for INI, ICMS and the mathematical community? on YouTube

*(via EPSRC on Twitter)*

Aerospace engineer Krystina Pearson-Rampeearee has launched a new set of pin badges which proudly proclaim “This is what a mathematican looks like”. In the accompanying Twitter thread, she explains that £1.50 from the sale of each badge will go to maths positivity charity Maths on Toast.

The badges are available, along with a range of others, in Krystina’s Etsy shop for £6.99 + P&P.

*(via @Obeverley on Twitter)*

Some scientific publishers are reporting a surge in submissions this year as scholars find more time during the pandemic to write papers. Does mathematics fit this pattern? Err, no. This blog post by Edward Dunne for the AMS goes into it.

*(via @AmerMathSoc on Twitter)*

Graham Hoare has died aged 85. Among his many achievements he was a mathematician and teacher, one of the driving forces behind the Royal Institution’s mathematics masterclasses, letters editor for the Mathematics Today journal and an active member of the Mathematical Association.

Graham Hoare obituary, in the Guardian.

In a move which claims to ‘shape for excellence’, the University of Leicester plans to cease research in pure mathematics. All pure mathematicians will be made redundant (in the middle of a pandemic) and three teaching-focused lecturers will be hired to cover their undergraduate programmes.

The idea is that the university needs to focus more on* *its “future research identity in AI, computational modelling, digitalisation and data science”, and that resources will be reallocated there. Presumably they’ll have to also outsource any integers or algebraic structures they need in order to do those things as well.

Previous attempts to do a similar thing in 2016 were met with outcry, including from the late Sir Michael Atiyah, and dropped, but they’re trying again. There’s a petition protesting the decision which already has over 5,000 signatures.

Mathematics is not redundant, on iPetitions.

Redundancies comment #3 – Plan for Maths doesn’t add up, on the University of Leicester UCU website.

*(via Tim Gowers on Twitter)*

The Carnival rounds up maths blog posts from all over the internet, including some from our own Aperiodical. See our Carnival of Mathematics page for more information.

]]>Today the European Mathematical Society launches PopMath, a calendar of popular maths events taking place across Europe and beyond, including online. It should be a great resource for people wanting to find or share details of mathematical outreach activities.

Created by the Raising Public Awareness (RPA) Committee of the European Mathematical Society, the website displays the events on a world map, and includes maths outreach events for a general audience, as well as academic and professional events about outreach. Events can be commercial or non-profit, online or in-person, and include longer exhibits and festivals alongside one-off talks.

Online events already listed include a teacher conference in the Netherlands, a talk on the number 1 in Germany (genuinely, the first in a series), an event on AI and Maths in Italy, and a presentation by Caroline Series on Indra’s Pearls in Singapore. There are also longer events including a week-long online workshop for 11-16 year-olds (cough cough), a 12-hour Maths Marathon in Spain and Maths Week in Ireland.

Anyone organising or wanting to promote an event can submit it on the PopMath website. If you just want to see events – you can search by ‘near me’ or by date, and the organisers hope to add a language filter shortly – the list is simply at popmath.eu.

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