Next Big Thing: When bus timetables and particle physics collide

The challenges of mathematics equate to the most exciting new frontiers of science. Imagine taking a time-lapse photograph of a clear sky at night. The photograph will be filled with circular arcs of light that reflect the motion of the stars in the sky as the Earth rotates around its axis. These paths have been … Continue reading Next Big Thing: When bus timetables and particle physics collide

Claude Shannon turns us on

Claude Shannon was a 22-year-old graduate student in 1938, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the renowned US research university, when he published his master’s thesis, “A Symbolic Analysis of Relay and Switching Circuits”, in the 12 December edition of the journal Electrical Engineering. “It was a transformative work, turning circuit design from an art … Continue reading Claude Shannon turns us on

George Boole executes a search

George Boole was born on 2 November 1815 in Lincoln, Lincolnshire, in the East Midlands of England. He spent his career as professor of mathematics at Queen’s University in Cork, Ireland. Boole married Mary Everest, niece of Sir George Everest, the Welsh geographer who served as Surveyor General of India from 1830 to 1843. Renowned … Continue reading George Boole executes a search

Do fractals exist in nature?

What are fractals? Fractals are objects in which the same patterns occur again and again at different scales and sizes. In a perfect mathematical fractal – such as the famous Mandelbrot set, shown above – this “self-similarity” goes infinitely deep: each pattern is made up of smaller copies of itself, and those smaller copies are … Continue reading Do fractals exist in nature?

A mathematician watches The Number 23

Warning: spoilers, for this fourteen-year-old film, ahead. Additional warning: the mathematical reasoning displayed in this film should be practiced with caution. Arithmetic operations are used to model many physical processes in the modern world and, as such, should be used justly, unless you want to watch the world burn. I sat down to watch The … Continue reading A mathematician watches The Number 23

When bus timetables and particle physics collide

Imagine taking a time-lapse photograph of a clear sky at night. The photograph will be filled with circular arcs of light that reflect the motion of the stars in the sky as the Earth rotates around its axis. These paths have been the subject of human wonder since the time of ancient civilisations, and our … Continue reading When bus timetables and particle physics collide

When words are not enough

A genuinely new idea can change the way we understand the world, but how to explain it? The birth of calculus is an extraordinary story about the race between Newton and Leibniz, the intersection of big ideas and the creation of a new language that transformed mathematics. “What’s in a name?” asked Shakespeare’s Juliet Capulet … Continue reading When words are not enough

A new angle on ancient trigonometry

This article first appeared in Cosmos Weekly on 6 August 2021. For more stories like this, subscribe to Cosmos Weekly. For some people, the word “trigonometry” conjures up images of right-angled triangles, or maybe even our old friends sine, cosine and tangent. And that may mean tears of blood, as “trigonometry” is a trigger for … Continue reading A new angle on ancient trigonometry

A new angle on ancient trigonometry

For some people, the word “trigonometry” conjures up images of right-angled triangles, or maybe even our old friends sine, cosine and tangent. And that may mean tears of blood, as “trigonometry” is a trigger for many from their school days. But without “trig”, architects would botch your new extension, GPS wouldn’t exist – and I … Continue reading A new angle on ancient trigonometry

Cosmos Pi-ku 2021 competition

March 14 is International Day of Mathematics – UNESCO declared it so at its 40th General Conference in 2019 – and also Pi Day (that’s the constant pi, not pie) in the US (where March 14 is written in month/day format – 3.14). International Day of Mathematics observance is led by the International Mathematical Union, whose theme in 2021 is Mathematics … Continue reading Cosmos Pi-ku 2021 competition

Snakes move like sine waves

Physicists have long studied the unique movement of snakes, and now they have proof that there’s more to snakeskin than meets the eye. Sidewinders – found in the deserts of North America, Africa and the Middle East – are snakes that lead their movement with the middle of their bodies, instead of with their heads, … Continue reading Snakes move like sine waves