Mathematician Katherine Johnson has died at the age of 101. She calculated rocket trajectories and orbits for early NASA space flights, including the missions that sent the first American in space, the first American to orbit the Earth and the first men to walk on the Moon, as well as contributing early work on the Shuttle program and many other areas. She was one of the women featured in the book and film Hidden Figures in 2016.
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Inspired by Katherine Johnson’s character in the film Hidden Figures and her use of Euler’s Method, engineer Natalie-Claire Luwisha has written this guest post about Euler’s contribution to engineering.
I thoroughly enjoyed Hidden Figures because of the overall message and inspiration it generated for all women, especially women of colour. Even today in the 21st century, most of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) industries still have a very low percentage of women and even fewer women of colour. One major factor in this is the lack of visible role models for young girls and women to aspire to, so this story based on real-life events was ideal to help tackle the issue.
Mega-late to the party, I’ve now arrived back from a week lecturing in Indonesia and have found time to go and see the incredibly well-received and widely talked-about NASA women maths film, Hidden Figures. I’ve heard an incredible number of wildly positive responses to the film, from as long ago as January, and have been looking forward to it greatly.
The film is a painstaking and at times brutally realistic depiction of the struggles faced by African-Americans, and by women, during the era of the early space missions.
Here are a few of the stories that we didn’t get round to covering in depth this month.
Turing’s Sunflowers Project – results
Manchester Science Festival’s mass-participation maths/gardening project, Turing’s Sunflowers, ran in 2012 and invited members of the public to grow their own sunflowers, and then photograph or bring in the seed heads so a group of mathematicians could study them. The aim was to determine whether Fibonacci numbers occur in the seed spirals – this has previously been observed, but no large-scale study like this has ever been undertaken. This carries on the work Alan Turing did before he died.
The results of the research are now published – a paper has been published in the Royal Society’s Open Science journal, and the findings indicate that while Fibonacci numbers do often occur, other types of numbers also crop up, including Lucas numbers and other similarly defined number sequences.