February 2007
"Medieval Muslims made stunning math breakthrough", Reuters, 22 February 2007. In the 1970s, when Roger Penrose described what are now called Penrose tilings, they were thought to be entirely new. Peter Lu, a physics graduate student at Harvard University, was intrigued when he recognized what seemed to be Penrose tilings in decorations in an Islamic site in Uzbekistan. He then collaborated with Paul Steinhardt of Princeton University, a cosmologist and expert on quasicrystals, to produce a paper that appeared in the 23 February 2007 issue of Science magazine. The paper analyzes tilings from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Turkey to showing that hundreds of years ago the Islamic tilers knew about Penrose tilings. The research generated a worldwide flood of media coverage, as the selected citations above indicate. See the March 2007 issue of Tony's Take, on the AMS Math in the Media web site, for further details. Links to additional media articles are available on Peter Lu's page.  Allyn Jackson
"New Baseball Statistic, With a Nod to an Old Standard," by Alan Schwarz. New York Times, 25 February 2007, page Sports 6.
"Navigation als Kunst und Wissenschaft (Navigation as art and science)", by George Szpiro. Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 25 February 2007. This article is the February installment of Szpiro's monthly column about mathematics. It explores the question, How round is the earth?, and discusses the navigational error that can arise if one does not correctly take into account the curvature of the earth.  Allyn Jackson
"Rhymes with good reason," the Sunday Puzzle with Will Shortz. Weekend Edition Sunday, National Public Radio, 25 February 2007. The challenge from February 18, 2007, was "to develop nine different mathematical expressions that equal eight. You must use the digits 2, 7 and one other. And that other digit must be a one in the first expression, two in the next expression and so on, up to nine. You can use a digit once and only once in each expression. You may use the four arithmetic symbols: plus, minus, times and divided by, as well as exponents and decimal points. You may use parentheses as you need them." Listen to the segment and see one answer.  Annette Emerson
"The angel that flew to the moon," by Ed Belbruno. New Scientist, 24 February 2007, page 51.
"Coming Soon: 'The Number 24'," by Carl Bialik. The Wall Street Journal, 23 February 2007. Columnist Carl Bialik's humorous attempt to write a few scenes for a possible sequel to the recent Jim Carrey thriller The Number 23 demonstrates that a lot of numbers, including the number 24, are everywherewhat you see just depends on what you're looking for. Screenwriter Fernley Phillips chose the number 23, coincidentally the number of times Caesar was stabbed and a sum associated with the date 9/11/2001 (9 + 11 + 2 + 0 + 0 + 1), as his movie subject at least in part due to his belief in its "powerful, possibly sinister properties," according to Bialik. A little research on Bialik's part, however, reveals a host of quirky facts about 23's successor, raising the question of what really sets 23 apart.  Lisa DeKeukelaere
"Better Geometry Through Chemistry," by Randall Kamien. Science, 23 February 2007. A team of Israeli chemists can now program a thin sheet of gel to selfassemble according to your favorite Riemannian metric. Only surfaces that can be embedded in R^{3} are allowed, specifically those that minimize elastic energy of the surface by admitting the least stretching. In addition these transformations are reversible, much like a flower's daytime bloom closes at night. Temperature triggers the gel's metamorphosis, activating a change in volume of a molecule spread throughout the gel in a radially symmetric gradient. A disc of material bends and buckles according to the gradient, birthing shapes such as spheres and wavy hyperbolic surfaces. Shapes other than discs can also be used. For example, cylinders become trumpetlike. According to a physicist not involved in the study, these madetoorder surfaces might make it "possible to assemble structures known for their useful photonic properties."  Brie Finegold
"Other Lives": Review of Pythagoras: His Life, Teaching and Influence, by Christoph Riedweg, and Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans: A Brief History, by Charles Kahn. Reviewed by M.F. Burnyeat. London Review of Books, 22 February 2007.
"Bringing Cartoons to Life," by John J. Tyson. Nature, 22 February 2007, page 823. In this article, professor of mathematics John Tyson discusses the use of mathematical models to understand cells as dynamic systems. He proposes that, instead of using diagrams of molecular interactions along with descriptions of "how the link between molecules and behaviour ought to be made, a better way to build bridges from molecular biology to cell physiology is to recognize that a network of interacting genes and proteins is a dynamic system evolving in space and time according to fundamental laws of reaction, diffusion and transport. These laws govern how a regulatory network, confronted by any set of stimuli, determines the appropriate response of a cell. This information processing system can be described in precise mathematical terms, and the resulting equations can be analysed and simulated to provide reliable, testable accounts of the molecular control of cell behaviour." Tyson illustrates his idea with the example of programmed cell death and the use of kinetic equations to model the network of biochemical reactions involved. Noting areas of molecular cell biology where this "dynamical perspective" has proven its meritse.g., the molecular basis of circadian rhythmshe predicts that this perspective will "revolutionize how we think about the molecular basis of cell physiology."  Claudia Clark
"Picture imperfect," by Nicola Jones. news@nature.com, 19 February 2007.
"Hot Type," by Susan Brown and Richard Monastersky. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 9 February 2007, page A18. The former editors of the journal Topology, who resigned en masse last year, have started a new journal, The Journal of Topology, which will be published by the London Mathematical Society. The resignations were over the pricing policies of Topology's publisher, Elsevier. The new journal will cost US$570 for four issues; Topology cost US$1665 for six issues. As to the future of Topology, the short article quotes Don Davis of Lehigh University: "I'm anticipating the Elsevier journal will cease to exist."  Mike Breen
"Math prodigy corrects Discovery Place," by Peter Smolowitz. Charlotte Observer, 8 February 2007. Parker Garrison, an eightyearold student at Charlotte Christian School, found a mistake in an exhibit at a local museuma mistake that no one had mentioned even though the exhibit had already been to eight cities in four years. The exhibit, "Jelly Belly Presents Candy Unwrapped," asked visitors to calculate how many jelly beans would fill half a pyramid. The formula given in the exhibit used the dimensions of the halfpyramid to find its volume, but then divided by two (which then gave half the required volume). After Parker got home and did the calculations three times, each time getting the correct answer, his parents called the museum. A new display is on the way.  Mike Breen
"Closing the Math Gap," by Katie Couric. CBS Evening News, 7 February 2007. As part of its series "The American Spirit," the CBS Evening News ran a fourminute story on Math for America (MfA)a program designed to increase the number of qualified math teachers in New York City. News anchor Couric talked with MfA founder and funder Jim Simons and with Melanie Smith, a teacher at the Manhattan Village Academy, who came through the program. Math for America pays for college graduates to get a master's degree in teaching and, once they are hired as teachers, pays them a bonus of up to US$20,000 a year. Simons, a mathematician who founded the hedge fund management company, Renaissance Technologies, says that it is the "intellectual power of America that gives us the potential to stay in front," but if something is not done nationwide to employ more qualified math teachers, the US will lose its position in the global economy.  Mike Breen
"A sporting chance of beating the bookies," by Michael Reilly. New Scientist, 6 February 2007, pages 3639. Stephen Oh, a former graduate student in population genetics, has a sports forecasting service that uses Monte Carlo methods to predict NFL winners. He now writes code that "simulates football teams instead of human genomes." Each player on a team is represented by up to 70 parameters. In a game each player's possible action is assigned a probability. A game is simulated through the branches of a tree diagram. Each game is simulated 10,000 times, running through the diagram, yielding different scores. Oh's prediction is the most likely score among the simulations. He says his service beats the point spread 56 per cent of the time. Hal Stern, a professor of statistics at the University of California, Irvine, says, "It seems almost insane to try and simulate the whole game. Then again maybe that's his edge." He adds, "I remain largely skeptical. If you could predict games, why would you sell the advice?" Reilly, a football nonexpert, used Oh's advice one weekend, betting over US$200, and losing less than US$10.  Mike Breen
"Here's the proof: Math + music mix for band's front man," by Jamie Gumbrecht. Lexington HeraldLeader, 4 February 2007.
"Painting by numbers": Review of The Fabulous Fibonacci Numbers, by Alfred Posamentier and Ingmar Lehmann. Reviewed by Justin Mullins. New Scientist, 3 February 2007, page 48. Compared to the book's mathematics, which the reviewer calls "delightful", its "desperate attempts" to connect the Fibonacci numbers with a dizzying array of artworks proves "unsatisfying".  Allyn Jackson
"The Crayola Einstein," by Jordan Gentile. The Other Paper, 1 February 2007. This Columbus, Ohio news weekly profiles Christian Faur, a digital media technologist at Denison University who is also an artist. A physicist by training, he taught math for a time in Los Angeles before moving to Ohio, where he currently has an art show, Aggregate States. He creates works using crayons, "stacking them in such large numbers that they looked like pixels on a television screen." One of the works noted is "Euler," a portrait of the mathematician Leonhard Euler, which includes Euler's constant.  Annette Emerson
"She's Got Their Number," by Chuck Salter. Fast Company, February 2007, page 100. This article profiles Brenda Dietrich, who has run the math sciences department at IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Center since 2001: She's "the top manager at arguably the biggest and most important math department in corporate America." In addition to having coauthored 13 patents and twice being named one of IBM's top inventors, she knits during meetings, while on conference calls, and in her spare time. The department's work is increasingly moving from behindthescenes theoretical research to solving realworld problems, as IBM is shifting "from hardware to software and services." Nowadays "elaborate algorithms reveal a company's inefficiencies and opportunities... Entire companiesthink Googleare being built are being built almost entirely around math. And others, like IBM, are integrating math into operations and decision making in ways never before seen." The article describes some of the math and how it is applied (e.g. how to fight forest fires more effectively by using an enormous model based on years of massive data that describes likely costs and results for any number of strategies). Another project described involves "how to assemble a project team from consultants dispersed around the world." Dietrich, who joined IBM in 1984 after earning her Ph.D. in operations research and industrial engineering at Cornell, is described as someone who was a young math whiz and still finds math beautiful, challenging, and useful in the real world.  Annette Emerson
"Art: Of Doilies and Disease," by Stephen Ornes. Discover, February 2007, page 66.
"What We Don't Know". Wired, February 2007.
"Breakthrough Ideas for 2007," Harvard Business Review, February 2007. This long survey of emerging ideas affecting business and industry includes a chapter, "Algorithms in the Attic," by Michael Schrage, a codirector of the MIT Media Lab's EMarkets Initiative, Cambridge, MA. The article abstract says "For a powerful perspective on future business, take a hard look at mathematics past... Just as big firms need the keen eye of an intellectual property curator to appreciate the value of old patents and knowhow, they will need savvy mathematicians to resurrect longforgotten equations that, because of advancing technology, can finally be applied to business." Some of the applications mentioned are algorithms for bidding, search engines, operations research, customerservice management, optimizing product placements, improving reliability of business plans, and enabling bigbox retailers to efficiently sift through mountains of collected data.  Annette Emerson

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