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All Squared, Number 1: Maths out loud

We’ve been quietly making plans and gathering material for a new project over the past couple of weeks, after noticing that there’s an unusual paucity of maths podcasts at the moment. Well, that exciting new project is now happening, and it’s a half-hour podcast featuring maths, guests, puzzles and links from the internet. It’s called All Squared, and it’ll contain cringe-inducing intro/ending contrivances, interesting guest interviews on topical and other subjects, and a panoply of mathematical curiosities.

This is the first number of the podcast (we thought ‘episode’ would set unrealistic expectations of regularity, and we can never resist a pun). It includes an interview with Edmund Harriss about spoken mathematics, as well as a puzzle which we’ll give the answer to in the next number, and a great mathematical flash game to keep you occupied until that appears.


Your help needed: survey of international mathematical cultures

Dr Aiping Xu of Coventry University is asking staff who have experience of mathematics education in the UK and other countries to complete a short questionnaire as part of a survey of international mathematical cultures for the Higher Education Academy. The questionnaire explains the purpose of the study.

A growing number of international students study mathematics at UK universities. Although mathematics itself may be the same the world over, the subject is learnt within a cultural setting and different countries have different mathematical cultures. The purpose of this project is to try to identify key ways in which the mathematical culture of other countries differs from that in the UK, so that both academic staff and students can be made more aware of these differences and so that appropriate induction can be provided.

I am told the questionnaire should take no more than 15 minutes to complete.

Take the survey: Investigation of international mathematical cultures.

Éditions Hermann donates its Bourbaki archives to the Bibliothèque nationale de France

A collection of material pertaining to Nicolas Bourbaki, author of the famous Elements of Mathematics, has been donated to the French national library by his publisher, éditions Hermann. Bourbaki set out to reframe modern maths in terms of set theory, to give the subject a coherence that would lead to more rigour and cross-application of results.

The donated material consists of “original texts, corrected proofs of the Elements of Mathematics, as well as various items related to the publication of the books including catalogues, press releases, contemporary journal articles on Bourbaki, and letters.”

More information (all in French)

Les éditions Hermann font don d’archives Nicolas Bourbaki à la Bibliothèque nationale de France – (PDF) press release from the BNF and Hermann.

Les Archives Bourbaki à la BNF – potted history of Bourbaki in Libération.

Nicolas Bourbaki fait son entrée à la BNF! – hour-long radio programme on France Culture, including contributions from Pierre Cartier, former avatar of Bourbaki, and Guillaume Fau, curator of manuscripts at the BNF.

Nicolas Bourbaki entry on MacTutor (in English)

Science Lives profile of Robert MacPherson

Just quickly, here’s something I saw on MetaFilter and enjoyed. The Simons Foundation has a “Science Lives” series of “extended interviews with some of the giants of twentieth century mathematics and science”.

This one is with Robert MacPherson, who invented instersection homology with Mark Goresky. I’d never heard of him and topology gives me the heebie-jeebs, but I’ve spent a very happy morning reading the fascinating biography and listening to the interview. The interviewer is Robert L. Bryant, also a research mathematician, so the questions don’t stray away from difficult topics. MacPherson comes across as an all-round excellent guy; I really recommend playing through all the clips when you have some time.

Let’s talk about X


It’s an unpresupposing little letter, $x$. In fact, that’s the reason we use it to represent something we don’t know. But how do you write it down? When Vijay Krishnan tweeted a link to an American college professor’s page on mathematical handwriting, I was shocked to learn that he thought adding a hook to a simple cross was sufficient to differentiate letter-$x$ from times-$\times$.

So I asked our Twitter followers how they write $x$. The Cambrian explosion of diversity in answers I received was eye-opening – I’m glad I asked!

Bill Thurston has died

William Thurston died yesterday of cancer, aged 65.

Thurston was one of the greatest contemporary mathematicians; a huge figure in low-dimensional topology. I won’t bother writing out a mathematical biography – Wikipedia and MacTutor have all the relevant information, as usual, and I won’t pretend I know a huge amount about the exact details of Thurston’s achievement. Instead, I’ve tried to gather together a few links from around the web that give an idea of why Prof Thurston was so widely admired.