On NSA recruiting, by Claudia Clark
"This year, the National Security Agency (NSA) needs to find 1,600 recruits," writes Geoff Brumfiel in this article. "Hundreds of them must come from highly specialized fields like computer science and mathematics." While successful to this point, NSA officials acknowledge that recruiting enough candidates from among the small pool of individuals with cutting-edge cybersecurity skills is a concern. Part of this is a result of NSA contractor Edward Snowden's leaking of documents in 2013, exposing the fact that the agency is collecting and retaining much more intelligence than most Americans thought. Brumfiel interviews John Hopkins University student Daniel Swann, who is earning his bachelor's and master's degree concurrently from the Information Security Institute this year. Swann is the kind of talent the NSA would like to recruit--Swann himself had previously envisioned working for the agency--but Snowden's revelations have raised too many questions for him: "I can't see myself working there," he says, "partially because of these moral reasons." Swann's decision was influenced in part by what he learned about the Snowden documents in a class taught by Matthew Green, a professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins. Green, Brumfiel writes, thinks that "the Snowden leaks have changed academia's view of the agency."
At the same time, NSA technical lead Neal Ziring, who is also involved in recruiting in academia, notes that while the Snowden leaks have put off some students, other students are more interested in a career with the NSA as a result. And he says there is actually a bigger problem: An increasing number of high-paying jobs in cybersecurity in Silicon Valley is drawing these potential candidates to the West Coast. "In part," Brumfiel notes, "that's because the industry no longer trusts the government as much as it once did."
See "After Snowden, The NSA Faces Recruitment Challenge," by Geoff Brumfiel, NPR Morning Edition, 31 March 2015.
--- Claudia Clark
On math and art, by Claudia Clark
In this article, Brotman describes a few of the initiatives at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) that involve combining the study of art with mathematics, science, and technology. These initiatives reflect a growing interest across the country in bringing the study of these disciplines together, also known as STEAM. "At SAIC," Brotman writes, "the efforts have been championed by the school's president, Walter Massey, a physicist. 'There's a lot of science in art,' he said… But he wanted to explore the concept more deeply. He began convening faculty meetings to examine the similarities in the ways artists and scientists see the world and express what they consider truth." Among the efforts at SAIC, the school has a scientist-in-residence--mathematician Eugenia Cheng (pictured)--and offers a class called "Articulating Time and Space" that combines studio art and physics. Meanwhile, "at the graduate level," writes Brotman, "students at SAIC are working with University of Chicago graduate students in physics, astrophysics and anthropology on projects like creating a 3-D fabric representation of the dark matter in the universe." Julie Marie Lemon, who launched this University of Chicago program--known as the Arts, Science & Culture Initiative--notes that the students "begin to teach each other. It makes better scientists; it makes better artists." And Rebecca Duclos, dean of graduate studies at SAIC, says the program helps break down stereotypes of what scientists do: "In fact, the scientists work very much like the artists. They probe around; they make mistakes. ... I think what both these disciplines are finding with each other is that research is this magic dance between linear, logical discovery and beautiful accident, spontaneity and intuition." (Photo by Paul Crisanti, PhotoGetGo.)
See "Art and science intersect at the School of the Art Institute," by Barbara Brotman. Chicago Tribune, 30 March 2015 (registration required).
--- Claudia Clark
Media coverage of the 2015 Abel Prize, by Annette Emerson
(Photos: Nash (left): © Peter Badge/Typos 1 in coop. with the HLF - all rights reserved 2015 and Nirenberg (right): © NYU Photo Bureau: Hollenshead.)
As soon as the Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters announced 2015 Abel Prize winners John F. Nash Jr. and Louis Nirenberg, the news spread on Twitter and elsewhere--many not able to resist connecting Nash with 'A Beautiful Mind,' the book and film about his life. (Nature puts as its title "'Beautiful mind' John Nash adds Abel Prize to his Nobel," and underneath that, "Mathematician made famous by Hollywood will share US$765,000 award with Louis Nirenberg for work in the field of geometric analysis.") Nash, who spent most of his career at Princeton University, and Nirenberg, professor emeritus at New York University's Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, receive the Abel Prize "for striking and seminal contributions to the theory of nonlinear partial differential equations and its applications to geometric analysis." The Abel prize committee wrote with the citation: "Their breakthroughs have developed into versatile and robust techniques that have become essential tools for the study of nonlinear partial differential equations. Their impact can be felt in all branches of the theory." Nash and Nirenberg have separately received prestigious awards and honors for their work in mathematics, but were nevertheless surprised to receive the Abel. New Scientist quotes Nash's quip, "I must be an honorary Scandinavian," and Nirenberg as saying, "I'm overwhelmed. I was asleep when the phone range yesterday, and I was simply astonished, just flabbergasted."
Philip Ball's piece in Nature provides more depth--a summary of just some of the work of the laureates, and bit of their lives. He quotes from a past interview in which Nirenberg said how he enjoyed collaborating in mathematics: "It's a very nice, warm family," and "That's the thing I try to get across to people who don't know anything about mathematics, what fun it is!" The recipients will be presented with their awards in the Abel Prize ceremony in Oslo in May.
See "A Beautiful Mind mathematician wins Abel prize," by Jacob Aron. New Scientist, 25 March 2015; "'Beautiful mind' John Nash adds Abel Prize to his Nobel," by Philip Ball, Nature, 25 March 2015; and "'A Beautiful Mind' Mathematician, John Nash, Wins Prestigious Prize," by David Freeman, The Huffington Post, 25 March 2015; "Bluefield's Nash wins highest mathematics honor," (with video of Nash after he received the Nobel Prize in Economics) by Marcus Constantino, Charleston Daily Mail, 30 March 2015. Other media, such as the New York Times and ABC News, picked up the announcement on the Associated Press newswire.
--- Annette Emerson (Posted 3/27/15)
In honor of Emmy Noether, by Annette Emerson
To mark the occasion of mathematican Emmy Noether's 133rd birthday, Google celebrated with a google doodle. Noether, born 23 March, 1882, made outstanding contributions to the field of abstract algebra and theoretical physics. She was asked to address the International Congress of Mathematicians in 1928 and again in 1932. After being dismissed from the University of Göttingen in 1933 by the Nazis because she was Jewish, she made her way to the U.S. where she accepted a professorship at Bryn Mawr College. She was highly respected by prominent mathematicians of the day and was praised by Albert Einstein as a "creative mathematical genius."
The video, "Emmy Noether and The Fabric of Reality," is a talk by Ransom Stephens about Noether's Theorem, which "ties the laws of nature--from Newton's laws to thermodynamics to charge conservation--directly to the geometry of space and time, the very fabric of reality."
See "Google doodle honors mathematician Emmy Noether," (+video) by Rowena Lindsay, Christian Science Monitor, 23 March 2015, which includes the above video and description of how doodler Sophie Diao went about incluiding mathemtics into the google doodle honioring Noether.
--- Annette Emerson (Posted 3/24/15)
On generating memorable passwords with Markov models, by Mike Breen
It's not easy finding a password you can remember that is also secure. In New Scientist, Jacob Aron writes about a method created by John Clements that uses Markov models and, in this case, text from A Tale of Two Cities, to generate passwords that are long enough to be secure, but are much easier to remember than passwords garbled up with special characters. One example: The greed hispefters and. Using the Dickens' novel, Clements used pairs of adjacent letters and for each pair, determined a distribution for possible subsequent individual letters. Then given an intial pair of letters, the third letter in the password is chosen based on that distribution. Once the third letter is chosen, the second and third letters are used to determine the frequency and make the choice for the possible fourth letter (as was done initially with the first two letters), and so on. Clements uses Huffman trees, binary trees used in compression, to terminate the word. Starting with longer strings, rather than only two-letter strings, yields longer but more pronounceable passwords. He admits in his paper--"Generating 56-bit passwords using Markov Models (and Charles Dickens)"--that there are still questions about the method, but notes that its security is independent of the chosen text so that people could use their own email history to generate passwords.
See "Let Charles Dickens sort out your passwords," by Jacob Aron. New Scientist, 21 March 2015, page 28.
--- Mike Breen (Posted 4/7/15)
On generating memorable passwords with Markov models, by Mike Breen
It's not easy finding a password you can remember that is also secure. In New Scientist, Jacob Aron writes about a method created by John Clements that uses Markov models and, in this case, text from A Tale of Two Cities, to generate passwords that are long enough to be secure, but are much easier to remember than passwords garbled up with special characters. One example: The greed hispefters and. Using the Dickens' novel, Clements used pairs of adjacent letters and for each pair, determined a distribution for possible subsequent individual letters. Then given an intial pair of letters, the third letter in the password is chosen based on that distribution. Once the third letter is chosen, the second and third letters are used to determine the frequency and make the choice for the possible fourth letter (as was done initially with the first two letters), and so on. Clements uses Huffman trees, binary trees used in compression, to terminate the word. Starting with longer strings, rather than only two-letter strings, yields longer but more pronounceable passwords. He admits in his paper--"Generating 56-bit passwords using Markov Models (and Charles Dickens)"--that there are still questions about the method, but notes that its security is independent of the chosen text so that people could use their own email history to generate passwords.
See "Let Charles Dickens sort out your passwords," by Jacob Aron. New Scientist, 21 March 2015, page 28.
--- Mike Breen (Posted 4/7/15)
On math and the NCAA men's basketball tournament
Who's going to win the tournament? Math can't say with 100% confidence, but some math professors have applied their skills to filling out brackets and figuring out how many brackets are possible. Tim Chartier (Davidson College), who has been studying the tournament and having success with brackets for years, writes about his approach to picking teams in the bracket in The New York Times, which gives extra points for correctly picking upsets. Jordan Ellenberg, University of Wisconsin, also wrote an article in the Times. Ellenberg looked at a couple of fairly simple methods to pick winners and noted, "The math can boost your chances of scoring high; but in bracketology, as in life, there are no guarantees." Eduardo Cabral Balreira and Brian Maceli at Trinity College weigh in with their predictions using their program Oracle, and Jeff Bergen at Depaul University talks about the number of possible brackets and his experiences doing interviews with the press. (Image: trendytron.)
--- Mike Breen (Posted 3/19/15)
Media coverage of Pi Day, by Annette Emerson
The AMS knows when Pi Day is approaching (and when the potential lottery winnings are high), as reporters call to get insights on the numbers. This year AMS Public Awareness Officer Mike Breen and other mathematicians (Steven Strogatz, Keith Devlin, Manil Suri, among others) were interviewed on what makes pi such a fascinating number, and why so this year in particular. "Pi is a great number, for many reasons. It is a mathematical constant that occurs in many different scientific applications, and it is a homophone for something that is delicious," said Stu Schmill, dean of admissions at the school," quoted in "Boston math lovers mark rare Pi Day". Devlin, interviewed on NPR, notes "The full date, 3/14/15, is pi to the first four places. At 9:26 a.m. and 53 seconds, you can even celebrate pi to nine places: 3.141592653." (This is so in the U.S., anyway, where dates are written by month, day and—in this case, abbreviated—year.) Devlin notes that pi is irrational and has been calculated to more than a trillion digits.
But as Strogatz writes in The New Yorker, "Pi does deserve a celebration, but for reasons that are rarely mentioned.... The beauty of pi, in part, is that it puts infinity within reach. Even young children get this. The digits of pi never end and never show a pattern. They go on forever, seemingly at random—except that they can't possibly be random, because they embody the order inherent in a perfect circle. This tension between order and randomness is one of the most tantalizing aspects of pi." He explains why pi matters: "Through the Fourier series, pi appears in the math that describes the gentle breathing of a baby and the circadian rhythms of sleep and wakefulness that govern our bodies. When structural engineers need to design buildings to withstand earthquakes, pi always shows up in their calculations.... In short, pi is woven into our descriptions of the innermost workings of the universe." His beautiful description of pi and its connection to cycles brings more appreciation to the number than the celebrations of who can recite the most digits of pi or who has baked the most creative pies (though those are good ways to celebrate Pi Day too!).
And Pi Day was the perfect time for Robert Burton, Jr. (a math teacher at Explorations Academy in New York) and Jaclyn Sawler (who teaches pre-K and kindergarten in Jersey City, NJ) to get married. Their wedding took place at the Liberty Science Center in New Jersey, starting at precisely 9:26:53 (a.m.), and was written up in the Sunday Styles section of The New York Times.
See "Why Pi Matters," by Steven Strogatz, The New Yorker, 13 March 2015; "The 'Math Guy' Presents 5 Facts About 3.14," an interview with Keith Devlin, Weekend Edition Saturday, NPR, 14 March 2015; " 'Super Pi Day' — 3.14.15 — will feature weddings, food specials as math nerds celebrate once-a-century date," by Sasha Goldstein, New York Daily News, 13 March 2015; "Don't Expect Math to Make Sense: On Pi Day, Celebrate Math's Enigmas," an Opinion by Manil Suri, New York Times, 13 March 2015; "Boston math lovers mark rare Pi Day," by Steve Annear, Boston Globe, 14 March 2015; "It pays to know Pi — often more than 6 figures," by Silvia Ascarelli, Marketwatch, 14 March 2015.
And see a roundup of Pi Day coverage in the blogosphere in "The Pi Day Link Roundup of the Century," by Evelyn Lamb.
--- Annette Emerson (Posted 3/16/15)
This issue of New Scientist takes a look at how probability and randomness arise in a variety of areas. One of the articles, "Chance: Is anything in the universe truly random?" by Michael Brooks, examines the question of whether the cosmos is predictable or ruled entirely by chance. The answer? No one knows. The issue contains articles on randomness in evolution, the problem of generating numbers that are truly random, and Bayesian probability. In addition, there are brief interviews with people from several walks of life, from "The Avalanche Predictor" to "The Gambler," who discuss how chance and randomness enter into the phenomena they work with. One of the people interviewed is David Hand, an emeritus professor of mathematics at Imperial College London, whose book The Improbability Principle appeared in 2014 (the book was reviewed in the AMS Notices by Andrew I. Dale). In his book, Hand argues that highly improbable events are actually commonplace. "At first glance, it sounds like a contradiction: if something is highly improbable, how can it possibly be commonplace?" he told the interviewer, Michael Bond. "But as you dig deeper you see it is not a contradiction, and that you should expect what appear to be extremely improbable events to occur quite often." One reason is the law of large numbers, which says, for example, that even though the probability of being struck by lightning is very small, every year thousands of people die of lightning strikes. "[T]here are 7 billion people in the world, so there are a lot of opportunities for it to happen," Hand said.
See "Chance: How randomness rules our world" (subscription required). Special feature in New Scientist, 14 March 2015.
--- Allyn Jackson (Posted 3/17/15)
On Einstein the math tutor, by Mike Breen
When 12-year old Betty Leedom struggled with math in 1941, she wound up with Albert Einstein as her tutor! This article gives delightful details about how Einstein became her tutor and his approach to teaching her math over the four years that they met. The two met almost daily and eventually Leedom got the hang of algebra and other math subjects. Near the end of the article, Leedom says, "Some people were afraid to talk to him because they thought he was a crazy old man, but he was just so nice. Even when I told him I hated math. He said, 'you shouldn’t hate math, math is the center of the universe, and anyone who knows math knows everything.’” [Emphasis added.]
See "Albert Einstein was a Princeton genius. And math tutor." by Jeff Edelstein. The Trentonian, 12 March 2015.
--- Mike Breen (Posted 3/18/15)
On number theory, algebra and string theory, by Claudia Clark
In this article, Erica Klarreich writes about the work that has led to the publication earlier this month of a paper that proves the colorfully named Umbral Moonshine Conjecture, first proposed in 2012. She begins by describing the discovery in 1978 by mathematician John McKay of a connection between the special dimensions of the monster group and the coefficients of the j-function. This lead to the publication the following year of the paper "Monstrous Moonshine," in which mathematicians John Conway and Simon Norton "conjectured that these relationships must result from some deep connection between" this group and this function. Then in 1992, some 10 years after University of Michigan mathematician Robert Griess constructed the monster, Fields Medalist Richard Borcherds proved that string theory was the "bridge between the two distant realms of mathematics in which the monster and the j-function live." Some 20 years later, the Umbral Moonshine Conjecture "proposes that in addition to monstrous moonshine, there are 23 other moonshines: mysterious correspondences between the dimensions of a symmetry group on the one hand, and the coefficients of a special function on the other." Read the proof of the conjecture.
To read more about this conjecture, and the mathematicians who have worked on and proven the conjecture, see "Mathematicians Chase Moonshine's Shadow," by Erica Klarreich, Quanta Magazine, 12 March 2015.
--- Claudia Clark
On Einstein the math tutor, by Mike Breen
When 12-year old Betty Leedom struggled with math in 1941, she wound up with Albert Einstein as her tutor! This article gives delightful details about how Einstein became her tutor and his approach to teaching her math over the four years that they met. The two met almost daily and eventually Leedom got the hang of algebra and other math subjects. Near the end of the article, Leedom says, "Some people were afraid to talk to him because they thought he was a crazy old man, but he was just so nice. Even when I told him I hated math. He said, 'you shouldn’t hate math, math is the center of the universe, and anyone who knows math knows everything.’” [Emphasis added.]
See "Albert Einstein was a Princeton genius. And math tutor." by Jeff Edelstein. The Trentonian, 12 March 2015.
--- Mike Breen (Posted 3/18/15)
On data in medicine, by Claudia Clark
This article, which is adapted from Lohr’s soon-to-be-published book "Data-ism: The Revolution Transforming Decision Making, Consumer Behavior, and Almost Everything Else," discusses the life and work of Harvard math major and "number cruncher" Jeffrey Hammerbacher. At the age of 32, Hammerbacher has already applied his quantitative skills to building sophisticated computer models on Wall Street, using data to improve Facebook's service, and founding Cloudera, "a fast-growing company that makes software tools for data science." However, a diagnosis of bipolar disorder several years ago led him to explore and eventually apply his talents to the field of medicine, and to work with Dr. Eric Schadt at Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai, which "has begun an ambitious, well-funded initiative to apply data science to medicine." The reason for the initiative, Dr. Schadt explained, is that chronic diseases "are not caused by single genes, but are 'complex networked disorders' involving genetics, but also patient characteristics such as weight, age, gender, vital signs, tobacco use, toxic exposure and exercise routines--all of which can be captured as data and modeled."
At Mount Sinai, researchers have been doing work on cancer treatments tailored to individual patients. Hammerbacher and his team work on the "'computational pipeline,'... with the goal of making [these] treatments more automated and thus more affordable and practical. 'It's ultimately what cancer cures are going to look like,' he said."
See "On the Case at Mount Sinai, It's Dr. Data," by Steve Lohr, New York Times, 7 March 2015.
--- Claudia Clark
On A full-scale computer simulation of the galaxy, by Lisa DeKeukelaere
Three centuries after Isaac Newton solved the two-body problem for describing the gravitational pull between the Earth and the Sun, researchers in the Netherlands and Japan are endeavoring to solve the 100-billion-body problem to describe the motions of all of the stars in a galaxy the size and shape of the Milky Way. Solving systems with less than a dozen bodies is achievable with sets of equations that provide the position and velocity of a body at any given time. Larger numbers of bodies, however, require numerical simulation to calculate each star's acceleration—based on the gravitational force of each other star in the system—over a brief change in time. Such a large number of computations is unfeasible at present, so the researchers reduced the required number of calculations by dividing the galaxy into cubic subvolumes to simplify some of the pairwise computations. The researchers also adapted their software to run on special parallel computing devices originally produced for video games. The researchers already have succeeded in simulating a 51-billion-body problem, and they hope that solutions to the full problem will yield new insights when compared to the results of the European Space Agency's effort, using the Gaia spacecraft launched in 2013, to map a billion stars.
See "The 100-Billion-Body Problem," by Brian Hayes. American Scientist, March-April 2015, vol. 103, no 2, pages 90-93.
--- Lisa DeKeukelaere
Origami video receives 2015 Vizzie People's Choice Best Overall, by Annette Emerson
"Today, mechanical engineers build on origami principles to make prototype machines that collapse, flex, or unfurl. With origami underpinning their core, spacecraft will harbor compact solar panels that expand dramatically after launch, and micro-scale instruments will unfold inside the body to perform delicate, minimally invasive surgery," reports Popular Science. The video "How origami is inspiring scientific creativity," by Larry Howell, Julie Walker, Robert Lang, Spencer Magleby, and Brian Wilcox--showing how origami is used to transport solar panels and other devices into space--has received the People's Choice Award in the 2015 Vizzies, the NSF and Popular Science's annual awards that "celebrate the use of visual media to clearly and accessibly communicate scientific data and research."
See "Engineers Use Origami To Inspire Creativity," by Popular Science staff. Popular Science, March 2015 (originally posted February 10, 2015), and the news release, "NSF and Popular Science announce 2015 Vizzies winners." See more of Robert Lang's origami and some of the computer patterns that generate his works on Mathematical Imagery.
--- Annette Emerson
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