Category Archives: Mathematics

Complex networks to provide ‘grand unified theory’

Trying to mesh classical physics and quantum physics together in one theory which accounts for behaviour on the macro and quantum scales has occupied scientists for decades and it seems that mathematicians have discovered a clue so solving the mystery. A Sept. 13, 2015 news item on Nanotechnology Now describes the findings,

Mathematicians investigating one of science’s great questions — how to unite the physics of the very big with that of the very small — have discovered that when the understanding of complex networks such as the brain or the Internet is applied to geometry the results match up with quantum behavior.

A Sept. 9, 2015 Queen Mary University of London press release, which originated the news item, describes the collaboration between Queen Mary and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology mathematicians,

The findings, published today (Thursday) in Scientific Reports, by researchers from Queen Mary University of London and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, could explain one of the great problems in modern physics.

Currently ideas of gravity, developed by Einstein and Newton, explain how physics operates on a very large scale, but do not work at the sub-atomic level. Conversely, quantum mechanics works on the very small scale but does not explain the interactions of larger objects like stars. Scientists are looking for a so called ‘grand unified theory’ that joins the two, known as quantum gravity.

Several models have been proposed for how different quantum spaces are linked but most assume that the links between quantum spaces are fairly uniform, with little deviation from the average number of links between each space. The new model, which applies ideas from the theory of complex networks, has found that some quantum spaces might actually include hubs, i.e. nodes with significantly more links than others, like a particularly popular Facebook user.

Calculations run with this model show that these spaces are described by well-known quantum Fermi-Dirac, and Bose-Einstein statistics, used in quantum mechanics, indicating that they could be useful to physicists working on quantum gravity.

Dr Ginestra Bianconi, from Queen Mary University of London, and lead author of the paper, said:

“We hope that by applying our understanding of complex networks to one of the fundamental questions in physics we might be able to help explain how discrete quantum spaces emerge.

“What we can see is that space-time at the quantum-scale might be networked in a very similar way to things we are starting to understand very well like biological networks in cells, our brains and online social networks.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Complex Quantum Network Manifolds in Dimension d > 2 are Scale-Free by Ginestra Bianconi & Christoph Rahmede. Scientific Reports 5, Article number: 13979 (2015) doi:10.1038/srep13979 Published online: 10 September 2015

This is an open access paper.

Michelangelo, clinical anatomy, mathematics, the Golden Ratio, and a myth

I would have thought an article about Michelangelo, mathematics, and the Golden Ratio would be in a journal dedicated to the arts or mathematics or possibly both. Not even my tenth guess would  have been Clinical Anatomy. As for the myth, not everyone subscribes to the Golden Ratio theory of beauty.

A July 20, 2015 Wiley Periodicals press release (also on EurekAlert) announces the publication of the research,

New research provides mathematical evidence that Michelangelo used the Golden Ratio of 1.6 when painting The Creation of Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The Golden Ratio is found when you divide a line into two parts so that the longer part divided by the smaller part is equal to the whole length divided by the longer part.

The Golden Ratio has been linked with greater structural efficiency and has puzzled scientists for centuries due to its frequent occurrence in nature–for example in snail shells and flower petals. The Golden Ratio can also be found in a variety of works by architects and designers, in famous musical compositions, and in the creations of many artists.

The findings suggest that the beauty and harmony found in the works of Michelangelo may not be based solely on his anatomical knowledge. He likely knew that anatomical structures incorporating the Golden Ratio offer greater structural efficiency and, therefore, he used it to enhance the aesthetic quality of his works.

“We believe that this discovery will bring a new dimension to the great work of Michelangelo,” said Dr. Deivis de Campos, author of the Clinical Anatomy study.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

More than a neuroanatomical representation in The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo Buonarroti, a representation of the Golden Ratio by Deivis De Campos, Tais Malysz,  João Antonio Bonatto-Costa, Geraldo Pereira Jotz, Lino Pinto De Oliveira Junior, and Andrea Oxley da Rocha. Clinical Anatomy DOI: 10.1002/ca.22580 Article first published online: 17 JUL 2015

© 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

This paper is open access.

Golden Ratio myth

One final comment, it seems not everyone is convinced that the Golden Ratio plays an important role in design, art, and architecture according to an April 13, 2015 article by John Brownlee for Fast Company titled: The Golden Ratio: Design’s Biggest Myth,

In the world of art, architecture, and design, the golden ratio has earned a tremendous reputation. Greats like Le Corbusier and Salvador Dalí have used the number in their work. The Parthenon, the Pyramids at Giza, the paintings of Michelangelo, the Mona Lisa, even the Apple logo are all said to incorporate it.

It’s bullshit. The golden ratio’s aesthetic bona fides are an urban legend, a myth, a design unicorn. Many designers don’t use it, and if they do, they vastly discount its importance. There’s also no science to really back it up. Those who believe the golden ratio is the hidden math behind beauty are falling for a 150-year-old scam.

Fascinating, non?

April 2015 (US) National Math festival; inside story on math tournaments; US tv programme: The Great Math Mystery; and the SET Award (tech women in the movies and on tv)

I have three math items for this posting and one women in technology item, here they are in an almost date order.


A British movie titled X+Y provides a fictionalized view of a team member on the British squad competing in an International Mathematics Olympiad.The Guardian’s science blog network hosted a March 11, 2015 review by Adam P. Goucher who also provides an insider’s view (Note: Links have been removed),

As a competition it is brutal and intense.

I speak from experience; I was in the UK team in 2011.

So it was with great expectation that I went to see X+Y, a star-studded British film about the travails of a British IMO hopeful who is struggling against the challenges of romance, Asperger’s and really tough maths.

Obviously, there were a few oversimplifications and departures from reality necessary for a coherent storyline. There were other problems too, but we’ll get to them later.

In order to get chosen for the UK IMO team, you must sit the first round test of the British Mathematical Olympiad (BMO1). About 1200 candidates take this test around the country.

I sat BMO1 on a cold December day at my sixth form, Netherthorpe School in Chesterfield. Apart from the invigilator and me, the room was completely empty, although the surroundings became irrelevant as soon as I was captivated by the problems. The test comprises six questions over the course of three and a half hours. As is the case with all Olympiad problems, there are often many distinct ways to solve them, and correct complete solutions are maximally rewarded irrespective of the elegance or complexity of the proof.

The highest twenty scorers are invited to another training camp at Trinity College, Cambridge, and the top six are selected to represent the UK at an annual competition in Romania.

In Romania, there was much maths, but we also enjoyed a snowball fight against the Italian delegation and sampled the delights of Romanian rum-endowed chocolate. Since I was teetotal at this point in time, the rum content was sufficient to alter my perception in such a way that I decided to attack a problem using Cartesian coordinates (considered by many to be barbaric and masochistic). Luckily my recklessness paid off, enabling me to scrape a much-coveted gold medal by the narrowest of margins.

The connection between the UK and Eastern Europe is rather complicated to explain, being intimately entangled with the history of the IMO. The inaugural Olympiad was held in Romania in 1959, with the competition being only open to countries under the Soviet bloc. A Hungarian mathematician, Béla Bollobás, competed in the first three Olympiads, seizing a perfect score on the third. After his PhD, Bollobás moved to Trinity College, Cambridge, to continue his research, where he fertilised Cambridge with his contributions in probabilistic and extremal combinatorics (becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society in the process). Consequently, there is a close relationship between Hungarian and Cantabrigian mathematics.

Rafe Spall’s character was very convincing, and his eccentricities injected some much-needed humour into the film. Similarly, Asa Butterfield’s portrayal of a “typical mathmo” was realistic. On the other hand, certain characters such as Richard (the team leader) were unnatural and exaggerated. In particular, I was disappointed that all of the competitors were portrayed as being borderline-autistic, when in reality there is a much more diverse mixture of individuals.

X+Y is also a love story, and one based on a true story covered in Morgan Matthews’ earlier work, the documentary Beautiful Young Minds. This followed the 2006 IMO, in China, where one of the members of the UK team fell in love and married the receptionist of the hotel the team were staying at. They have since separated, although his enamourment with China persisted – he switched from studying Mathematics to Chinese Studies.

It is common for relationships to develop during maths Olympiads. Indeed after a member of our team enjoyed a ménage-a-trois at an IMO in the 1980s, the committee increased the security and prohibited boys and girls from entering each others’ rooms.

The film was given a general release March 13, 2015 in the UK and is on the festival circuit elsewhere. Whether or not you can get to see the film, I recommend Goucher’s engaging review/memoir.

The Great Math Mystery and the SET award for the Portrayal of a Female in Technology

David Bruggeman in a March 13, 2015 post on his Pasco Phronesis blog describes the upcoming première of a maths installment in the NOVA series presented on the US PBS (Public Broadcasting Service), Note: Links have been removed,

… PBS has announced a new math special.  Mario Livio will host a NOVA special called The Great Math Mystery, premiering April 15.  Livio is an astrophysicist, science and math writer, and fan of science/culture mashups.  The mystery of the title is whether math(s) is invented or was discovered.

You can find out more about The Great Math Mystery here.

David also mentions this,

The Entertainment Industries Council is seeking votes for its first SET Award for Portrayal of a Female in Technology. … Voting on the award is via a Google form, so you will need a Google account to participate.  The nominees appear to be most of the women playing characters with technical jobs in television programs or recent films.  They are:

  • Annedroids on Amazon
  • Arrow: “Felicity Smoak” played by Emily Bett Rickards
  • Bones: “Angela Montenegro” played by Michaela Conlin

Here’s a video describing the competition and the competitors,

More details about the competition are available in David’s March 13, 2015 post or here or here. The deadline for voting is April 6, 2015. Here’s one more link, this one’s to the SET Awards website.

(US) National Math Festival

H/t to David Bruggeman again. This time it’s a Feb. 6, 2015 post on his Pasco Phronesis blog which announces (Note: Links have been removed),

On April 18 [2015], the Smithsonian Institution will host the first National Math Festival in Washington, D.C.  It will be the culmination of a weekend of events in the city to recognize outstanding math research, educators and books.

On April 16 there will be a morning breakfast briefing on Capitol Hill to discuss mathematics education.  It will be followed by a policy seminar in the Library of Congress and an evening gala to support basic research in mathematics and science.

You can find out more about the 2015 National Math Festival here (from the homepage),

On Saturday, April 18th, experience mathematics like never before, when the first-of-its-kind National Math Festival comes to Washington, D.C. As the country’s first national festival dedicated to discovering the delight and power of mathematics, this free and public celebration will feature dozens of activities for every age—from hands-on magic and Houdini-like getaways to lectures with some of the most influential mathematicians of our time.

The National Math Festival is organized by the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI) and the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in cooperation with the Smithsonian Institution.

There you have it.

A ‘Magic Square’ stamp from Macau

Alex Bellos describes a fascinating interplay between culture, mathematics, and stamps in his Nov. 4, 2014 posting on the Guardian-hosted Alex’s Adventures in Numberland,

 Old-age mutant number tortoise: Macau stamp displays the origin myth of the magic square. Illustration: Macau Post  [downloaded from]

Old-age mutant number tortoise: Macau stamp displays the origin myth of the magic square. Illustration: Macau Post [downloaded from]

According to Chinese legend a turtle like the one above crept out of the Yellow River about 4000 years ago. It looks like it is riddled with spots, or bullet holes. But if you look carefully, the dots on its back represent the digits from 1 to 9 arranged in the following way:




If you add the numbers in each row together, they are all equal to 15. For example 4 + 9 + 2 = 15, and so on.

If you add the columns, they sum to 15 also. For example, 4 + 3 + 8 = 15. And yes, you guessed it, the diagonals do too.

A grid containing consecutive numbers starting from 1 such that rows, columns and diagonals all add up to the same number is known as a magic square. The 3×3 square on turtle is known in China as the lo shu.

Magic squares have long fascinated soothsayers, herpetologists, mystics, architects, soldiers, artists, mathematicians…and now, stamp collectors. Macau, the former Portuguese colony now a part of China, has just issued a set of magic square stamps that, it claims, not only promotes Chinese culture but also creates a “unique product in the history of philately.”

I encourage you to read the post in its entirety as Bellos follows the magic square through a number of time periods and cultures.

Mathematicians, political scientists, and cake cutting

If you have a sibling, you’ve likely fought at least once over who got the biggest or ‘best’ piece of cake.  (I do and I did.) In any event, it seems that mathematicians and political scientists have been working on a scheme to avoid disputes over cake.

[downloaded from]

A July 16, 2014 Springer news release (also on EurekAlert) describes the quest for fairly sized cake slices and how that might apply to real life issues such as sharing property,

The next time your children quibble about who gets to eat which part of a cake, call in some experts on the art of sharing. Mathematician Julius Barbanel of Union College, and political scientist Steven Brams of New York University, both in the US, published an algorithm in Springer’s The Mathematical Intelligencer by which they show how to optimally share cake between two people efficiently, in equal pieces and in such a way that no one feels robbed.

The cut-and-choose method to share divisible goods has been regarded as fair and envy-free since Biblical times, when Abraham divided land equally, and Lot could choose the part he wanted. But being free of envy is not the only consideration when sharing something. What happens when more than two cuts can be made, or when people prefer different, specific sections of whatever is to be divided? Barbanel and Brams believe that with a giveback procedure it is possible to make a perfect division between two people that is efficient, equitable and void of jealousy.

An objective referee (such as a Mom or a computer) is essential to the plan. The potential cake eaters first tell the referee which parts of the delicacy they value most. In mathematical terms these are called someone’s probability density functions, or pdfs. The referee then marks out the cake at all points were the pdfs of the disgruntled would-be cake eaters cross, and assigns portions. If at this point the two parties receive the same size of cake, the task is over. If not, the giveback process starts.

The party who received the larger part of the cake during the first round must give a part of it back to the other person, starting with those parts in which the ratio of their pdfs is the smallest. This goes on until the parties value their portions equally, and have the same volume of cake to eat. This method only works with a finite number of cuts if the players’ pdfs are straight-lined, or are so-called piecewise linear sections.

The researchers believe the method can be used to share cake and other divisible goods such as land. In the case of beachfront property being co-owned by two developers, for example, it can help to determine who gets what strips of land to build on based on the pieces of land they value most.

“This allocation is not only equitable but also envy-free and efficient – that is, perfect,” says Barbanel.

“This approach focuses on proving the existence of efficient and envy-free divisions, not on providing algorithms to finding them,” emphasizes Brams.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Two-Person Cake Cutting: The Optimal Number of Cuts by Julius B. Barbanel and Steven J. Brams. The Mathematical Intelligencer March 2014 DOI 10.1007/s00283-013-9442.

This paper is behind a paywall although there is a free preview available and a special summer discount (30%) on the purchase price until July 31, 2014.

The geometry of graphene at the University of Arkansas (US)

The University of Arkansas (US) has announced the development of a new mathematical framework useful for studying graphene according to a May 5, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

Scientists studying graphene’s properties are using a new mathematical framework to make extremely accurate characterizations of the two-dimensional material’s shape.

“The properties of two-dimensional materials depend on shape,” said Salvador Barraza-Lopez, an assistant professor of physics at the University of Arkansas. “And this mathematical framework allows you to make extremely accurate characterizations of shape. This framework is a novel tool to understand shape in materials that behave as atom-thin membranes.”

A May 5, 2014 University of Arkansas news release, which originated the news item, provides more details,

The mathematical framework being used is known as discrete differential geometry, which is the geometry of two-dimensional interlaced structures called meshes. When the nodes of the structure, or mesh points, correspond with atomic positions, discrete differential geometry provides direct information on the potential chemistry and on the electronic properties of two-dimensional materials, Barraza-Lopez said.

The application of discrete differential geometry to understand two-dimensional materials is an original interdisciplinary development, he said.

“Since two-dimensional materials can be easily visualized as meshes, we asked ourselves how these theories would look if you express them directly in terms of the positions of the atoms, bypassing entirely the common continuum approximation,” Barraza-Lopez said. …

Two papers have been produced about this work,

Quantitative Chemistry and the Discrete Geometry of Conformal Atom-Thin Crystals by Alejandro A. Pacheco Sanjuan, Mehrshad Mehboudi, Edmund O. Harriss, Humberto Terrones, and Salvador Barraza-Lopez. ACS Nano, 2014, 8 (2), pp 1136–1146 DOI: 10.1021/nn406532z Publication Date (Web): January 8, 2014

Copyright © 2014 American Chemical Society

Graphene’s morphology and electronic properties from discrete differential geometry by Alejandro A. Pacheco Sanjuan, Zhengfei Wang, Hamed Pour Imani, Mihajlo Vanević, and Salvador Barraza-Lopez. Phys. Rev. B 89, 121403(R) – Published 6 March 2014 DOI:

©2014 American Physical Society

Both papers are behind paywalls.

Happy Pi Day! on March 14, 2014

It;’s no surprise that Canada’s Perimeter Institute (PI) is celebrating Pi Day. Before sharing the institute’s latest public outreach effort and for anyone like me who has a shaky understanding  of what exactly Pi is, there’s this explanation excerpted from the Pi Wikipedia essay (Note: Links have been removed),

The number π is a mathematical constant, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, approximately equal to 3.14159. It has been represented by the Greek letter “π” since the mid-18th century though it is also sometimes spelled out as “pi” (/paɪ/).

Being an irrational number, π cannot be expressed exactly as a common fraction. Consequently its decimal representation never ends and never settles into a permanent repeating pattern. The digits appear to be randomly distributed although no proof of this has yet been discovered. Also, π is a transcendental number – a number that is not the root of any nonzero polynomial having rational coefficients. This transcendence of π implies that it is impossible to solve the ancient challenge of squaring the circle with a compass and straight-edge.

Fractions such as 22/7 and other rational numbers are commonly used to approximate π.

Someone at the Perimeter Institute has prepared a ‘facts you don’t know about Pi‘ flyer to commemorate the day, which includes these facts and more,

In the 1995 OJ Simpson trial, one witness’ credibility was called into doubt when he misstated the
value of pi. [for anyone not familiar with the trial, O. J. Simpson murder case Wikipedia entry)

Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco associates the mysterious pendulum in the novel with the intrigue of pi.

In 2005, Lu Chao of China set a world record by memorizing the first 67,890 digits of pi.

In the year 2015, Pi Day will have special significance on 3/14/15 at 9:26:53.58, with the date and time (including 1/100 seconds) representing the first 12 digits of pi.

Over on the Guardian science blogs (Alex’s Adventures in Nunberland blog), Alex Bellos shares Pi artwork in his March 14, 2014 posting, here’s a sample,

Artist: Cristian Vasile

Artist: Cristian Vasile

In this work, Vasile converted pi into base 16. The sixteen segments around the circle represent the 16 digits of this base. He then traced pi for 3600 digits, going from segment to segment based on the value of the digit. A fuller explanation is here and Vasile’s art can be bought here.

Have a happy Pi Day and a good weekend!

Does education kill the ability to do algebra?

Apparently, the ability to perform basic algebra is innate in humans, mice, fish, and others. Researchers at Johns Hopkins describe some of their findings about algebra and innate abilities in this video,

While the researchers don’t accuse the education system of destroying or damaging one’s ability to perform algebra, I will make the suggestion, the gut level instinct the researchers are describing is educated out of most of us. Here’s more from the March 6, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily describing the research,

Millions of high school and college algebra students are united in a shared agony over solving for x and y, and for those to whom the answers don’t come easily, it gets worse: Most preschoolers and kindergarteners can do some algebra before even entering a math class.

In a just-published study in the journal Developmental Science, lead author and post-doctoral fellow Melissa Kibbe and Lisa Feigenson, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences at Johns Hopkins University’s Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, find that most preschoolers and kindergarteners, or children between 4 and 6, can do basic algebra naturally.

“These very young children, some of whom are just learning to count, and few of whom have even gone to school yet, are doing basic algebra and with little effort,” Kibbe said. “They do it by using what we call their ‘Approximate Number System:’ their gut-level, inborn sense of quantity and number.”

A Johns Hopkins University March 7, 2014 news piece by Latarsha Gatlin describes the research further,

The “Approximate Number System,” or ANS, is also called “number sense,” and describes humans’ and animals’ ability to quickly size up the quantity of objects in their everyday environments. We’re born with this ability, which is probably an evolutionary adaptation to help human and animal ancestors survive in the wild, scientists say.

Previous research has revealed some interesting facts about number sense, including that adolescents with better math abilities also had superior number sense when they were preschoolers, and that number sense peaks at age 35.

Kibbe, who works in Feigenson’s lab, wondered whether preschool-age children could harness that intuitive mathematical ability to solve for a hidden variable. In other words, could they do something akin to basic algebra before they ever received formal classroom mathematics instruction? The answer was “yes,” at least when the algebra problem was acted out by two furry stuffed animals—Gator and Cheetah—using “magic cups” filled with objects like buttons, plastic doll shoes, and pennies.

In the study, children sat down individually with an examiner who introduced them to the two characters, each of which had a cup filled with an unknown quantity of items. Children were told that each character’s cup would “magically” add more items to a pile of objects already sitting on a table. But children were not allowed to see the number of objects in either cup: they only saw the pile before it was added to, and after, so they had to infer approximately how many objects Gator’s cup and Cheetah’s cup contained.

At the end, the examiner pretended that she had mixed up the cups, and asked the children—after showing them what was in one of the cups—to help her figure out whose cup it was. The majority of the children knew whose cup it was, a finding that revealed for the researchers that the pint-sized participants had been solving for a missing quantity. In essence, this is the same as doing basic algebra.

“What was in the cup was the x and y variable, and children nailed it,” said Feigenson, director of the Johns Hopkins Laboratory for Child Development. “Gator’s cup was the x variable and Cheetah’s cup was the y variable. We found out that young children are very, very good at this. It appears that they are harnessing their gut level number sense to solve this task.”

If this kind of basic algebraic reasoning is so simple and natural for 4, 5, and 6-year-olds, then why it is so difficult for teens and others?

“One possibility is that formal algebra relies on memorized rules and symbols that seem to trip many people up,” Feigenson said. “So one of the exciting future directions for this research is to ask whether telling teachers that children have this gut level ability—long before they master the symbols—might help in encouraging students to harness these skills. Teachers may be able to help children master these kind of computations earlier, and more easily, giving them a wedge into the system.”

While number sense helps children in solving basic algebra, more sophisticated concepts and reasoning are needed to master the complex algebra problems that are taught later in the school age years.

Another finding from the research was that an ANS aptitude does not follow gender lines. Boys and girls answered questions correctly in equal proportions during the experiments, the researchers said. Although other research shows that even young children can be influenced by gender stereotypes about girls’ versus boys’ math prowess, “we see no evidence for gender differences in our work on basic number sense,” Feigenson said.

Parents with numerically challenged kids shouldn’t worry that their child will be bad at math. The psychologists say it’s more important to nurture and support young children’s use of their number sense in solving problems that will later be introduced more formally in school.

“We find links at all ages between the precision of people’s Approximate Number System and their formal math ability,” Feigenson said. “But this does not necessarily mean that children with poorer precision grow up to be bad at math. For example, children with poorer number sense may need to rely on other strategies, besides their gut sense of number, to solve math problems. But this is an area where much future research is needed.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Young children ‘solve for x’ using the Approximate Number System by Melissa M. Kibbe and Lisa Feigenson. Article first published online: 3 MAR 2014 DOI: 10.1111/desc.12177

© 2014 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

This paper is behind a paywall.

Mathematics of Planet Earth lives on past 2013

A Université de Montréal (Québec, Canada) Dec. 11, 2013 news release (also on EurekAlert) proclaims a new life for a worldwide mathematics initiative (Note: I have added paragraph breaks for this formerly single paragraph excerpt),

Although you might not know it, mathematics is able to shed light on many of the issues facing Planet Earth – from the structure of the core of our planet to the understanding of biodiversity, from finding ways to advance cutting edge solar technology to better understanding the Earth’s climate system, and from earthquakes and tsunamis to the spread of infectious diseases – and so mathematicians around the world have decided to launch an international project, Mathematics of Planet Earth (MPE), to demonstrate how their field of expertise contributes directly to our well being.

Mathematics of Planet Earth is growing out of a year-long initiative that was the brainchild of Christiane Rousseau, professor of mathematics at Université de Montréal and vice-president of the International Mathematics Union.

Beginning in 2014, the program will continue under the same name with the same objectives: identify fundamental research questions about Planet Earth and reach out to the general public. As Prof Rousseau observed, “Mathematics of Planet Earth has been a great start. But identifying the research problems is not enough. Mathematics moves slowly, the planetary problems are very challenging, and we cannot expect great results in just one year.” “The International Mathematical Union enthusiastically supports the continuation of Mathematics of Planet Earth. The success of this initiative attests to the foundational role of the mathematical sciences and interdisciplinary partnerships in research into global challenges, increasingly valued by society,” says Ingrid Daubechies, President of the International Mathematical Union.

How did I not hear about this project before now? Well, it’s better to get there late then never get to the party at all. From the news release,

Under the patronage of UNESCO, the MPE initiative brought together over 100 scientific societies, universities, research institutes, and foundations from around the world to research fundamental questions about Planet Earth, nurture a better understanding of global issues, and help inform the public about the essential mathematics of the challenges facing our planet. “The Mathematics of Planet Earth (MPE) initiative resonates strongly with UNESCO’s work to promote the sciences and science education, especially through our International Basic Sciences Programme. Math advances fundamental research and plays an important role in our daily life. More than ever we need to develop relevant learning materials and to spark in every student, especially girls, a sense of joy in the wondrous universe of mathematics and the immense potential unleashed by this discipline. In this spirit, we commend this initiative and fully endorse the proposal to continue this programme beyond 2013,” said Irena Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO.

It’s not about preaching to the converted. “The curriculum material developed for Mathematics of Planet Earth provides schools and educators a free-of-charge wealth of material for and will be used for many years to come. The initiative has presented the public, schools and the media with challenging applications of mathematics, with significant answers to questions like ‘What is mathematics useful for?'” said Mary Lou Zeeman, MPE coordinator for Education. “Mathematics of Planet Earth wonderfully contributed to diffuse an informed culture of environment and helps to get a common mathematical toolkit necessary to deal the dramatic challenges faced today by our planet,” said Ferdinando Arzarello, President of the International Commission of Mathematical Instruction (ICMI).

It’s not only the mathematicians and mathematics pedagogues who’ve gotten excited about this initiative,

MPE2013 has drawn the attention of other disciplines as well. Among its partners are the American Geophysical Union, the International Association for Mathematical Geosciences, and the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG). The research on planetary issues is interdisciplinary, and collaboration and networking are essential for progress. “Great mathematicians understood the importance of research into planet Earth many centuries ago,” said Alik Ismail-Zadeh, a mathematical geophysicist and the Secretary General of the IUGG. “Pierre Fermat studied the weight of the Earth; Carl Friedrich Gauss contributed to the development of geomagnetism and together with Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel made significant contribution to geodesy; Andrei Tikhonov developed regularization techniques intensively used in studies of inverse problems in many areas of geophysics. Mathematics of Planet Earth 2013 highlighted again the importance of international multidisciplinary cooperation and stimulated mathematicians and geoscientists to work together to uncover Earth’s mysteries.”

The news release closes with these interesting bits of information,

About Mathematics of Planet Earth

On January 1, 2014, Mathematics of Planet Earth 2013 (MPE2013) will continue as “Mathematics of Planet Earth” (MPE). The objectives remain unchanged – identify fundamental research questions about Planet Earth and reach out to the general public. With support from the U.S. National Science Foundation, MPE will maintain a website where additional educational and outreach materials will be posted. New modules will be developed and added to the MPE Exhibition. Plans for more MPE activities exist in several countries in the form of workshops, summer schools, and even the creation of new graduate programs in Mathematics of Planet Earth.

About Christiane Rousseau

Christian Rousseau is a professor at Université de Montréal’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Vice-President of the International Mathematics Union, and a member of the Centre de recherches mathématiques. Professor Rousseau conceived and coordinated Mathematics of Planet Earth 2013.

About Mathematics of Planet Earth 2013’s Achievements

MPE2013 activities have included more than 15 long-term programs at mathematical research institutes all over the world, 60 workshops, dozens of special sessions at society meetings, two major public lecture series, summer and winter schools for graduate students, research experiences for undergraduates, an international competition, and an Open Source MPE Exhibition. In addition, MPE2013 has supported the development of high-quality curriculum materials for all ages and grades available on the MPE2013 Web site.

Encouraging Research

The scientific activities of MPE2013 were directed both to the mathematical sciences community, whose members are encouraged to identify fundamental research questions about Planet Earth and their potential collaborators in other disciplines. The program provides evidence that many issues related to weather, climate, sustainability, public health, natural hazards, and financial and social systems lead to interesting mathematical problems. Several summer and winter schools have offered training opportunities for junior researchers in these areas.

Reaching Out

The outreach activities of MPE2013 were as important as the scientific activities. More than sixty public lectures have been given with audiences on all five continents. Particularly noteworthy were the MPE Simons Public Lectures, now posted on the MPE2013 Web site, which were supported financially by the Simons Foundation. MPE2013 has maintained a speakers bureau, supported the development of curriculum materials, maintained a collection of posters, and produced special issues of mathematical magazines and other educational materials. Many activities took place at schools in several countries. The permanent MPE Open Source Exhibition is now hosted on the website of IMAGINARY and can be used and adapted by schools and museums.

Daily Blog

The dual mission of MPE2013 – stimulating the mathematics research community and reaching out to the general public – is reflected in the Daily Blogs (one in English, the other in French), each of which has featured more than 250 posts on topics ranging from astronomy to uncertainty quantification. The blog gets several hundred hits a day.

You can find out more about MPE 2013 and its future here. (English language version website) or go here for the French language version. For those who prefer to read the news release about the ‘morphing’ MPE in French, go here.