Math in the Media

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Top Math Stories in the Media - 2019

These stories about mathematics and mathematicians made an impression on the mathematics community and the general public due to their coverage by media outlets, and their human interest.

Uhlenbeck is the first woman to be awarded the Abel Prize

Karen UhlenbeckMedia worldwide covered the 2019 Abel Prize, with particular attention to Karen Uhlenbeck being the first woman recipient of the Abel Prize. she received the prize "for her pioneering achievements in geometric partial differential equations, gauge theory and integrable systems, and for the fundamental impact of her work on analysis, geometry and mathematical physics." See Math in the Media for links to extensive stories in both scientific journals and general news media, including The New York Times, Science, Nature, Quanta Magazine, NPR, New Scientist, CNN, Smithsonian, The Guardian, The Hindu, New Yorker Magazine, and Chronicle of Higher Education. See also Tony Philips' Take on the news coverage in his April column, followed by his Take posted in May, "Karen Uhlenbeck and 'The Bubble-Verse'," which begins, "The New York Times revisited the Abel Prize winner with a big spread on page one of their Science section.

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gerrymanderingHow to fix gerrymandering? Listen to mathematicians. Mathematicians Manil Suri and Karen Saxe, who is Head of the AMS Office of Government Relations, delved into the issues, the search for answers, how math should be used, and getting the Supreme Court to overcome skepticism, in a piece published in The Conversation. Read more from that piece and see links to access the piece picked up by other sources--Salon, PBS News Hour, and San Francisco Chronicle.

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Turing in the news

turing 50 pound note"Alan Turing was an outstanding mathematician whose work has had an enormous impact on how we live today," said Bank of England governor Mark Carney as he revealed that the Bank of England's new £50 note bears the image of Turing.  Turing was recognized in this way for breaking Adolf Hitler's Enigma code system in World War II. Media worldwide covered this, and the fact that Turing had died an outcast because of his homosexuality. See a round-up of sources on Math in the Media (BBC, Nature, NPR, CNN Business, Time, Washington Post, among others). (Image ©The Governor and Company of the Bank of England 2019)

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Bride and groom invite math to their wedding

math at the weddingA bride and groom who are mathematicians and math enthusiasts informed their wedding guests that they needed to solve math problems to learn their seating assignment at the reception. This story went viral on social media and was covered on tv news, in newspapers and blogs. Some people thought the task was belittling of guests, and others thought the idea was very clever. Read about the media coverage on Math in the Media and also "On the mathematical wedding controversy," by Rachel Crowell on the AMS Blog on Math Blogs.

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The sum of 3 cubes

sum of three cubes"For 64 years, mathematicians have been on a quest to discover whether the number 33 can be expressed as the sum of three cubes, as in 33 = xy3 + z3. Recently, Andrew Booker, a mathematician at the University of Bristol in England, announced the first solution to that equation...." Rachel Crowell summarizes the mathematics and the media coverage on Quanta, Live Science, and Newsweek.

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'Hidden Figures' receive recognitions

Hidden Figures WayIn June 2019 the street outside NASA's headquarters in Washington DC was renamed Hidden Figures Way in honor of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, who were featured in the book and film Hidden Figures, about their time and contributions at NASA's Langley Research Center. Margot Lee Shetterly (pictured on the right in the photo), author of the Hidden Figures book that inspired the 2016 film, spoke at the renaming ceremony, where she was joined by family members of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson; NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine (left), U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (second from left) and DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (third from left). Christine Darden, one of NASA's human computers from the Apollo era, also attended. Read Rachel Crowell's summary and links to media coverage by NBC4 Washington, The Guardian, and USA Today, among other sources.(Image: NASA.) In December, Congress passed a bill awarding its Gold Medal to Katherine Johnson, Dr. Christine Darden, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson for their work at NASA Langley. Hear Darden talk about her work at NASA in the Mathematical Moment "Winning the Race."

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On black mathematicians and inequality

Edray GoinsMathematicians Edray Goins (Pomona College, president of the National Association of Mathematicians), Nathaniel Whitaker (U Mass Amherst), and Michael Young (Iowa State University) shared their experiences of bias and isolation, and the culture that accounts for the near-invisibility of black mathematicians, in a piece in Colorlines. See also, Tony Phillips' Take on the story, "A Black Scholar's Lonely Trek At the Top of the Math World," on the front page of The New York Times.

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A couple figures out the lottery

lotteryHow did a retired couple find lottery odds in their favor? (Apparently with little problem, using some math, as they explained on 60 Minutes.) Rachel Crowell summarized that and linked to subsequent coverage on CBS News and The Boston Globe.

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Mathematicians and blackboards

David Gabai blackboardDo Not Erase, a book of Jessica Wynne's photographs of mathematicians' blackboards, came out in fall 2019. The mathematical work on the blackboards is beautiful. "In a way, the board is their instrument. It's how they work out problems. [Just how] a painter might do it through their canvas and a musician through an instrument," says Wynne. Tony Phillips' noted in his Take on Math in the Media that several photos were published in "When Theory Meets Chalk, Dust Flies," in The New York Times. (Photo: Dave Gabai's blackboard, photographed at Princeton by Jessica Wynne. Image from Do Not Erase, reproduced with permission on Math in the Media, Tony Phillips' Take.) Later, Fortune focused on how the works on the blackboards inspired photographer Wynne.

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Tributes and obits on influential mathematicians

Julia RobinsonThere was prominent media coverage of influential mathematicians who passed away long ago and in 2019. Social media posts and Math in the Media made note of an article by Evelyn Lamb on the 100th anniversary of Julia Robinson's birth (December 8) and contributions. When Alan Turing's image was placed on Bank of England's new £50 note, The New York Times published an obituary for Alan Turing presented as part of their "Overlooked" series, covered by Tony Phillips. Obituaries were published and covered by Math in the Media for Elias M. Stein, Jean Bourgain (with a Take by Tony Phillips), and Sir Michael Atiyah. The New York Times also published obituaries, covered by Tony Phillips, of Goro Shimura, Mitchell Feigenbaum, and John Tate.

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Mathematicians in the news due to their new books

John UrschelJohn Urschel, MIT, gave talks around the country and made appearances to promote and sign his new book, "Mind and Matter: Mind and Matter: A Life in Math and Football," co-authored with Louisa Thomas. He and Thomas appeared on The Today Show; he was interviewed on Science Friday; he and the book have been covered in The Boston Globe, Time, and NPR; and the book was reviewed in Publisher's Weekly.


Steven StrogatzSteven Strogatz, Cornell University, has published several best-selling books, and the newest one, Infinite Powers: How Calculus Reveals the Secrets of the Universe, has also drawn lots of attention in the media. He was interviewed in Scientific American and on CBC Radio and his book has been reviewed in Nature and in The Washington Post, among other media. (Photo courtesy of Cornell University.)

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Math Top in Regeneron Talent Search

Ana HumphreyAna Humphrey, Alexandria, VA, won the top award in the Regeneron Science Talent Search. She won $250,000 "for her mathematical model to determine the possible locations of exoplanets--planets outside our solar system — that may have been missed by NASA's Kepler Space Telescope...." The exciting news of this prestigious award for high school students was picked up by media including NBC Washington and The Washington Post.

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A "simple" math equation

formulaThis math equation took Twitter by storm, kind of like how the "Is the dress white and gold, or blue and black?" photo went viral. Read Vanessa Rivera-Quinones' take, "Let's Talk About Viral Equations," on the AMS Blog on Math Blogs. Hint: Depending on the order of operations you apply to this equation you will end up with an answer of 16 or 1.  Steven Strogatz wrote an article, "The Math Equation That Tried to Stump the Internet" (The New York Times, August 2, 2019) in which he explains, "Sometimes BODMAS is just PEMDAS by another name. And no, the answer is not 100." That article generated 954 comments.


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Pi Day Celebrations

Pi DayEach year Pi Day (3-14) attracts media attention, with stories and radio segments on its history, puzzles, celebrations, games, and of course, baking (pies of course). See a round-up of this year's media coverage around the world.

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Op-Eds and Letters to the Editor

We also acknowledge some of the opinion pieces and letters to the editor that appeared in 2019: "OPINION: Six ways to nurture high-aptitude math students in under-resourced schools," by Jacob Castaneda, Hechinger Report, December 5, 2019; "Math Teachers Should Be More Like Football Coaches," by John Urschel, The New York Times, May 11, 2019; and "Stop Saying 'Exponential.' Sincerely, a Math Nerd." by Manil Suri, The New York Times, March 4, 2019.

More math in the media

See "The 10 Biggest Math Breakthroughs of 2019," by Dave Linkletter, Popular Mechanics, December 27, 2019. Mathematics (sensitivity conjecture and mathematical bees) made Discover Magazine's Top Stories in 2019 list. Editors of Quanta Magazine wrote: "For mathematicians and computer scientists, this was often a year of double takes and closer looks. Some reexamined foundational principles, while others found shockingly simple proofs, new techniques or unexpected insights in long-standing problems. Some of these advances have broad applications in physics and other scientific disciplines. Others are purely for the sake of gaining new knowledge (or just having fun), with little to no known practical use at this time." ("The Year in Math and Computer Science," by Bill Andrews, Quanta Magazine, December 23, 2019). The above viral math equation made #82 out of 100 of "The Most-Read New York Times Stories of 2019" (by Maggie Adams, Ari Isaacman Bevacqua and Umi Syam, The New York Times, December 24, 2019).

See also: Numberphile (popular videos on YouTube); "What's Going on in this Graph?" (graphs, maps, and charts--and an invitation to students to discuss them live--The New York Times); Global Math Week; Alex Bellos's Monday Puzzles in  the science section of The Guardian), and My Favorite Theorem (interviews with mathematicians conducted by Evelyn Lamb and Kevin Knudson).

See Top Math Stories in the Media - 2018, and see AMS Math in the Media, your central source for news of mathematics and mathematicians, Tony Phillips' Take, links to reviews of math books, plays, films, and television, and summaries by past AMS-AAAS Media Fellows and the AMS Public Awareness Office. Also, follow @amermathsoc on Twitter for ongoing sharing of news.

--- Annette Emerson, AMS Public Awareness Officer