Publications Meetings The Profession Membership Programs Math Samplings Policy & Advocacy In the News About the AMS
Blog on Math Blogs

Math Digest

Summaries of Media Coverage of Math

Edited by Allyn Jackson, AMS
Contributors:
Mike Breen (AMS), Claudia Clark (freelance science writer), Lisa DeKeukelaere (2004 AMS Media Fellow), Annette Emerson (AMS), Brie Finegold (University of California, Santa Barbara), Adriana Salerno (Bates College)


October 2009

 

"Game equals fun, money for math students," by Preston Sparks. Augusta Chronicle, 30 October 2009, Metro page 1.

Contestants, Dana, and Mike

Who Wants to Be a Mathematician contestants, Dana Randall, and Mike. (The day's big winner, Andrew Ding, is near the back in a sweater.) Photo by Bill Butterworth.

The AMS's Arnold Ross Lecture and Who Wants to Be a Mathematician are the subjects of this article. The lecture and game took place October 29 at the National Science Center's Fort Discovery in Augusta, Georgia. Dana Randall of Georgia Tech gave a lecture on domino tilings and their applications, which was enjoyed by the audience, including Andrew Ding (Augusta Preparatory Day School)--the big winner in Who Wants to Be a Mathematician, winning $3000 and a TI-Nspire graphing calculator. Sparks writes that Andrew "would take his $3,000 winnings and likely use it for a summer camp. He said the day was a perfect outing for him because he loves math."

--- Mike Breen

 

Return to Top

 

"Correspondence in Flux": Review of The Calculus of Friendship by Steven Strogatz. Reviewed by Brie Finegold. Science, 30 October 2009, page 669.

The full title of Strogatz's book is The Calculus of Friendship: What a Teacher and a Student Learned About Life While Corresponding About Math. The roles of teacher and student become mutual as the two develop a friendship that is based on dreaming up and solving calculus problems. As the book reviewer Finegold notes, "their excitement in sharing mathematical jewels and tidbits leaves us as anxious to read the next letter as its recipients must have been.... Becoming invested in answering mathematical questions is a major benefit of reading this book.... Although some solutions are explicitly worked through, the problems presented in the book are tantalizing on their own." As Finegold points out, the mathematicians' humor, creativity and excitement come to the fore in the letters that were exchanged, and became the basis of a deep friendship over the course of 30 years.

--- Annette Emerson

 

Return to Top

 

"Number-Crushing: When Figures Get Personal," by Carl Bialik, with contributions by Jonathan Cheng. Wall Street Journal Online, 28 October 2009.

13

"Numerology, a belief that certain digits have greater meaning beyond merely their quantity, has long been viewed as a kind of loony uncle to mathematics." This article tells about some examples of how some numbers--and the order they appear--affects the sensibilities of some. One example is a condominium skyscraper in Hong Kong: The developer named the floors out of numerical sequence, offending and confusing many people. But as Bialik explains, "Henderson [the developer] chose to name the floors as it did because of positive associations with 6 and 8, and negative ones with 4. In Cantonese and Mandarin, the word for eight sounds like 'faat,' which means prosperity. Hence the Beijing Olympics starting time of 8 p.m. on Aug. 8, 2008. The word for four, meanwhile, "sounds very much like 'death,' and is therefore avoided at all costs," says Hung-Hsi Wu, professor emeritus of mathematics at University of California, Berkeley, who was born in Hong Kong. Six is also considered lucky." Bialik goes on to note that "many mathematicians have their own emotional attachments to numbers that drove them to enter the field in the first place. Some will cop to having numerical crushes that might not look that different from numerologists'." He cites Williams mathematics professor Thomas Garrity, who is fond of the number "9." The article includes a chart showing how some numbers came to viewed as lucky or unlucky.

--- Annette Emerson

 

Return to Top

 

"How maths makes the world go round," by Ian Stewart. The Telegraph, 26 October 2009.

Mathematical Moment podcast interview with

"Like many amateur guitarists, I’d always wondered how to play the opening chord of A Hard Day’s Night. Over the years, I spent hours trying to reconstruct it, but there was something very odd about it: no matter how hard I tried, I could never get it quite right. In the end, the key to the mystery turned out not to be music, but mathematics," writes Ian Stewart. Stewart, a mathematician and popular-science and science-fiction writer, reminds readers that in addition to being employed to solve that mystery, mathematics is also used in may ways that may surprise--to design a new type of football, develop Google's search engine, genetically engineer a better breed of carrot, find oil deep beneath the Earth's surface, and enable medical CT scans, for example.

He notes that the mathematics applied in all these examples is "behind the scenes," and that we may not all need to know the specialized mathematics of Fourier analysis, computational fluid dynamics, matrix algebra network theory, etc. "But if I want to understand how my world works, I do need to appreciate that the maths is there. Otherwise, I'll think that the subject is useless. And if too many of us do that, soon there won’t be enough mathematicians to keep everything working."

[Editor's note: Hear a podcast interview with Beatles fan and mathematician Jason Brown of Dalhousie University, who solved the mystery of the opening chord in A Hard Day's Night.]

--- Annette Emerson

 

Return to Top

 

"10 jobs for math whizzes," by Rachel Zupek. CareerBuilder. CNN Living, 26 October 2009.

CNN publishes a CareerBuilder.com report that found individuals with training in mathematics have very good job prospects. Focusing on those who may not have realized the usefulness and potential of mathematics early on, Zupek writes, "We should have paid attention in math class... If you consider yourself a math whiz and are ready to put in a few extra years of school, check out these 10 jobs and what you'll need to succeeed in them." The ten jobs are actuary, cost estimator, economist, electrical engineer, physicist, market researcher, mathematicianm statistician, surveyor, and mathematical sciences teacher, and the list includes the education required and average annual salary for each. "Mathematician" is described: "There are two types of mathematicians: theoretical and applied. Theoretical mathematicians develop new principles of math and look for new developments in existing principles. Applied mathematicians use theories and techniques to solve economic, scientific, engineering, physics and business problems."

--- Annette Emerson

 

Return to Top

 

Recent Maths Masters columns by Burkard Polster and Marty Ross: "What is the best way to lace your shoes?", The Age, 26 October 2009; "Melbourne Grammar mystery map," The Age, 19 October 2009; "How to murder a mathematician," The Age, 12 October 2009.

shoelaces

In these most recent columns the authors explore the "best"--shortest--way to lace your shoes (with diagrams and calculations based on length of laces and number of eyelets); introduce a bit of topology (using an example of how the spherical Earth shape might be projected on various surfaces); and shed light on their involvement in consulting and providing props (such as math books and equations on whiteboards) for the Australian tv crime show City Homicide.

The Education section of The Age in Australia published regular columns by Burkard and Ross. See the archive of all the Math Masters columns, and see some videos of media coverage of Burkard and Ross.

--- Annette Emerson

 

Return to Top

 

Articles about Martin Gardner:
"'Tadpole/Fish'--As Always Martin Gardner is a Great Catch," by Michael Dirda. Washington Post, 22 October 2009;
"Puzzle-Master Martin Gardner Turns 5!-5^2,"
by Matt Blum. Wired Magazine Blog (Geekdad), 21 October 2009;
"For Decades, Puzzling People With Mathematics,"
by John Tierney. New York Times, 19 October 2009.

Martin Gardner recently turned 95 years old, but his passion for puzzles is no less vital now than it was when he first started writing about mathematics over 40 years ago. His newest book, When You Were a Tadpole and I Was a Fish, is one amongst over 70 which introduces readers to logical thinking via essays, puzzles, and games. Gardner's first book, Fads and Fallacies in the name of Science, dispelled pseudoscience myths. As Dirda explains, 'evolution' is both the title of a poem whose first line is "When you were a Tadpole and I was a fish" and a topic that Gardner writes about in many of his essays.

Speaking about his success, Gardner is quoted by Tierney: “I don’t think I ever wrote a column that required calculus. The big secret of my success as a columnist was that I didn’t know much about math. I had to struggle to get everything clear before I wrote a column, so that meant I could write it in a way that people could understand.” Gardner's columns in Scientific American made mathematics seem as plausible a hobby as knitting or golfing.

All three of the journalists writing about Gardner recall their own fascination with the easy-to-understand problems that he gleaned from sources near and far. In addition to being popular with the public, Gardner earned the respect of professional research mathematicians. Ronald Graham, a mathematician and computer scientist at University of California at San Diego is quoted by Tierney: “Martin has turned thousands of children into mathematicians, and thousands of mathematicians into children.”

For those looking for an opportunity to discuss mathematical fun and games with the like-minded, the Ninth Gathering for Gardner is scheduled for March 2010.

See also: "Martin Gardner’s Aha! Moments," by John Tierney, New York Times, 19 October 2009, and "Monday Puzzle: Martin Gardner’s Birthday Celebration," by John Tierney, New York Times, 19 October 2009.

--- Brie Finegold

 

Return to Top

 

"Canal-side pilgrimage recalls inspired piece of vandalism," by Dick Ahlstrom. Irish Times, 17 October 2009.

The twenty-first annual pilgrimage honors the work of William Rowan Hamilton, who, it is said, scrawled "the formula for one of his greatest discoveries"--quaternions--on the Broombridge bridge in Cabra in 1843. "The term [quaternion, the first noncommutative algebra to be studied] means little to most, but his maths is in widespread use today to create special effects in films like Matrix Reloaded and in computer games for characters such as Lara Croft from Tomb Raider." Although his hand-carved formula is no longer on the bridge, there is a plaque marking the 1843 date and discovery, and a group walks along the canal each year to commemorate the mathematician.

--- Annette Emerson

 

Return to Top

 

"The Big Gamble in the Saudi Desert," by Jeffrey Mervis. Science, 16 October 2009, pages 354-357.

The gamble is the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), a new "lavishly endowed" graduate-students-only university in Saudi Arabia. The article has an inset on current SIAM Vice President David Keyes, who has taken the position of dean of KAUST's school of Mathematical and Computer Sciences and Engineering. Keyes says that the deanship at the new school is "a great adventure, and a unique opportunity," and adds that he "can't think of a better place to advance computational science and engineering." Mervis notes that some of KAUST's faculty are a little put off by the way Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil company, has managed the university, and many in the faculty were stunned in March when the founding provost, Fawwaz Ulaby, who had recruited many of the faculty members, resigned after only one year in the position.

--- Mike Breen

 

Return to Top

 

"Prime Number: .064," by Kenneth Chang. New York Times, 16 October 2009.

In response to the intensive media coverage of the six-year-old boy who, it turns out, was not in an errant homemade balloon sailing across Colorado, Chang calculates just why the balloon would most likely not have been capable of carrying the boy weighing in at about 37 pounds. "[.064] The weight in pounds (about an ounce) that one cubic foot of helium can lift, at sea level...." Given the measurements of the balloon, its capacity for helium, the boy's weight, the compartment's weight, and the thinner air of the Denver area, common sense--backed up by some mathematics and physics--reveals that the "balloon boy" story was not likely.

--- Annette Emerson

 

Return to Top

 

"Hedge Firm Says Chief Will Retire," Zachery Kouwe. New York Times, 9 October 2009.

James Simons

Math for America Founder and Chairman Jim Simons recognizes his math corps at MƒA's Third Annual Fall Function. Photograph courtesy of MathforAmerica.

James Simons, winner of the Veblen Prize in 1976 from the American Mathematical Society, has announced that he will retire from the daily management of his firm, Renaissance Technologies, to focus more on his interests in mathematics and science. In spite of the fact that it's largest fund, Renaissance Institutional Equities Fund, has lost money in the recent financial crisis and has not yet recovered, some on Wall Street think that Simons "has an almost supernatural talent for making money" says Kouwe. Indeed, the firm's oldest fund, Medallion, has "never had a losing year since it was started in 1988." The family foundation to which Simons has donated much of his money "supports basic research and graduate education in mathematics and science [and] has established Math for America, a program to attract and retain knowledgeable math teachers in the nation's public high schools."

Simons' retirement was covered extensively in the media: "Hedge-Fund Legend Simons Will Retire," by Jenny Strasburg and Scott Patterson, Wall Street Journal, 8 October 2009, as well as articles in Bloomberg News, New York Post, and others.

--- Claudia Clark

 

Return to Top

 

"Two Doors and a Goat": Review of The Monty Hall Problem: The Remarkable Story of Math's Most Contentious Brain Teaser by Jason Rosenhouse. Reviewed by Donald O. Granberg. Science, 9 October 2009, pages 231-232.

Rosenhouse has written an entire book on the Monty Hall Problem: its history, comparable problems, and extensions. The reviewer likes the author's sense of humor and writes that the book "is much more comprehensive and wide-ranging than the many articles on the subject that have dribbled out. Those, of necessity, are more sharply focused. Rosenhouse offers readers much to think about concerning the perplexing question of whether to stick or switch."

--- Mike Breen

 

Return to Top

 

"Some See Numerical Oddity in Pollster's Election Results," by Numbers Guy Carl Bialik. Wall Street Journal, 7 October 2009.

A political numbers analyst recently teamed up with physicists and mathematicians to examine the validity of polling results reported during the 2008 presidential election and found some unlikely patterns. Although pollsters accurately predicted the election outcome in many states, they had much less success during the primaries, and the American Association for Public Opinion Research (Aapor) has been investigating pollsters' results in an attempt to diagnose the problem. One firm, Strategic Vision, Inc., refused to give Aapor access to its response rates, and analysis of the firm's numbers revealed an interesting pattern. Counting the number of reported results ending in "8," for example, revealed that "8" appeared 57% more often than "1" as a final digit—-an arrangement for which the odds are 5000 to 1. The reason for the pattern is unclear, due to Strategic Visions' concealment of its data, but the case is an unambiguous example of the difficulty in determining the accuracy of the polling results one sees on television.

--- Lisa DeKeukelaere

 

Return to Top

 

"New Tack on Math Promoted," by Sean Cavanagh. Education Week, 7 October 2009.

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics' (NCTM) new guidelines for high school, released in mid-October, suggests that teachers should focus on use of math skills for problem solving, instead of emphasizing the building blocks of mathematics without accompanying examples of real world applications. NCTM believes that spending more time on application of math skills will help keep students engaged in math classes because they will quickly see the utility of their new knowledge. This, in turn, will increase the appeal of math and science-related occupations and help students in their future workplaces. The guidelines, "Focus in High School Mathematics: Reasoning and Sense Making," provide hypothetical examples of classroom scenarios, but some educators note that the document would be more useful if it were more detailed and contained real classroom testimonies. In addition, one math professor expresses concern that too much emphasis on the applications will leave students with a sub-par grasp of important math content.

[Editor's note. Related to this article are: 1. an article in the October 26 Wall Street Journal, in which three experts (Joel Klein, chancellor of the New York City Department of Education; Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania; and Christopher Edley Jr., dean of the law school at the University of California at Berkeley and a member of the Obama administration transition team working on education issues) talk about "Why We're Failing Math and Science," and 2. "Proposed National Academic Standards Sidestep Debate," in which The Washington Post's Nick Anderson writes about the Common Core State Standards Initiative, an effort to create national standards in math and English.]

--- Lisa DeKeukelaere

 

Return to Top

 

"A Trillion Triangles," National Science Foundation. U.S. News & World Report, 6 October 2009.

What do the numbers 5, 6, 7, 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 22, 23, and 24 have in common? Each is a congruent number: a natural number that is equal to the area of a rational right triangle. In fact, this list contains all of the congruent numbers up to 25. Even though attempts to identify these numbers began over a thousand years ago, it took most of this time to determine the congruent numbers less than 100. Then, in the early 1980s, Jerrold Tunnell of Rutgers University used the connection between congruent numbers and elliptic curves, as well as the Birch-Swinnerton-Dyer conjecture—to identify thousands more possible congruent numbers. This article discusses the most recent work done by two teams of mathematicians—using two different algorithms—to identify more candidates for congruent numbers…up to one trillion.

For more information in the media on this topic, see "Taking the Tally of Curious Triangles,"” by Barry Cipra, ScienceNOW Daily News, 23 September 2009 issue or "Congruent numbers, by Brian Hayes, on his blog bit-player, 6 October 2009.

--- Claudia Clark

 

Return to Top

 

"Nonprofit group takes on math problem," by Bruce Lieberman. San Diego Union-Tribune, 5 October 2009.

Coaxing students to resist the urge to "plug-and-chug" is a tough job for newly minted high school mathematics teachers. And the number of people becoming math teachers is 100 short of what it should be in San Diego County. To pull in more teachers and keep them in the profession, James Simons founded Math for America (MfA) in 2004. Simons was familiar with mathematics in both theory and practice as the co-inventor of Cherns-Simons Theory, and as the CEO of a very successful hedge fund. One Math for America fellow who is making a difference is Susan Amoroso, who teaches at Escondido High School. She previously worked in the insurance industry before changing her career to become a teacher. She tells the reporter that when she first heard about the program she thought, "This is a dream come true."

Originally native to New York City, MfA currently offers fellowships to attract new high school mathematics teachers in several large cities, including San Diego. Fellows receive support as they earn their teaching credentials as well as stipends and continued mentoring over their first five years of teaching. The Board of Directors of this program includes several well-known mathematicians and businessmen. Recently the National Science Foundation awarded MfA a grant to continue their work and support 24 new fellows. Those interested in applying or learning more about the program can see the Math for America website.

--- Brie Finegold

 

Return to Top

 

"Math-averse pupils are drawn to computer program's cartoon penguin," by Lisa Fernandez (San Jose Mercury News). Kansas City Star, 3 October 2009.

MIND Institute

Image courtesy of MIND Institute.

"California's hottest new math teacher is an animated penguin named JiJi. The mute, waddling, tuxedo-clad cartoon figure quietly has been taking over math programs in the Silicon Valley, dramatically improving test scores in mostly low-performing schools," writes Fernandez. JiJi is the penguin star of a computer program developed by the nonprofit MIND research Institute in Santa Ana, CA. "Three University of California scientists came up with a visual math program to teach complicated 'spacial temporal' concepts that are underutilized in most schools, said Andrew Coulson, the president of MIND's education division. So 11 years ago, the trio, headed by Matthew Peterson, created a computer program with animated diagrams. JiJi was born." The program is used by 118,000 students in 22 states, and reportedly has improved mathematics proficiency in elementary school students.

--- Annette Emerson

 

Return to Top

 

"Winning an Ig Nobel Beats a sharp blow to the skull, Maybe," by Don Troop. Chronicle of Higher Education, 1 October 2009.

Gideon Gono, governor of Zimbabwe's Reserve Bank, was awarded the 2009 Ig Nobel Prize in Mathematics "for giving people a simple, everyday way to cope with a wide range of numbers—from very small to very big—by having his bank print bank notes with denominations ranging from one cent to $100-trillion." The Ig Nobel Prizes, organized by the magazine Annals of Improbable Research, are presented in a humorous ceremony each year, and as described by the organizer, are to "honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think. The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative--and spur people's interest in science, medicine, and technology." Benoit Mandelbrot, Sterling Professor Emeritus of Mathematical Sciences at Yale University, IBM Fellow Emeritus at IBM's T.J. Watson Research Center, and inventor of the mathematical concept of fractals, was the keynote speaker at the ceremony. Another article, "Ig Nobel Prizes: Genius and ... Goofballs," by Devin Powell, abcnews.com, 5 October 2009, provides a bit more information about the Prize and notes the 2007 winner in Mathematics, L. Mahadevan. (See media coverage of Mahadevan's 2007 Ig Nobel Prize in Mathematics.)

--- Annette Emerson

 

Return to Top

 


Math Digest Archives || 2014 || 2013 || 2012 || 2011 || 2010 || 2009 || 2008 || 2007 || 2006 || 2005 || 2004 || 2003 || 2002 || 2001 || 2000 || 1999 || 1998 || 1997 || 1996 || 1995

Click here for a list of links to web pages of publications covered in the Digest.