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What's Happening in the Mathematical Sciences, Volume 5
Barry Cipra

What's Happening in the Mathematical Sciences
2002; 95 pp; softcover
Volume: 5
ISBN-10: 0-8218-2904-1
ISBN-13: 978-0-8218-2904-2
List Price: US$21
Member Price: US$16.80
Order Code: HAPPENING/5
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Mathematicians like to point out that mathematics is universal. In spite of this, most people continue to view it as either mundane (balancing a checkbook) or mysterious (cryptography). This fifth volume of the What's Happening series contradicts that view by showing that mathematics is indeed found everywhere--in science, art, history, and our everyday lives.

Here is some of what you'll find in this volume:

  • Mathematics and Science
    • Mathematical biology: Mathematics was key to cracking the genetic code. Now, new mathematics is needed to understand the three-dimensional structure of the proteins produced from that code.
    • Celestial mechanics and cosmology: New methods have revealed a multitude of solutions to the three-body problem. And other new work may answer one of cosmology's most fundamental questions: What is the size and shape of the universe?
  • Mathematics and Everyday Life
    • Traffic jams: New models are helping researchers understand where traffic jams come from-and maybe what to do about them!
    • Small worlds: Researchers have found a short distance from theory to applications in the study of small world networks.
  • Elegance in Mathematics
    • Beyond Fermat's Last Theorem: Number theorists are reaching higher ground after Wiles' astounding 1994 proof: new developments in the elegant world of elliptic curves and modular functions.
    • The Millennium Prize Problems: The Clay Mathematics Institute has offered a million dollars for solutions to seven important and difficult unsolved problems.

These are just some of the topics of current interest that are covered in this latest volume of What's Happening in the Mathematical Sciences. The book has broad appeal for a wide spectrum of mathematicians and scientists, from high school students through advanced-level graduates and researchers.


General mathematical audience.


"A winner indeed ... very successful series ... the standards in these volumes are very high indeed. What makes these volumes so well-received? Here are five reasons ... First, the articles are all written in a very lively style ... witty and sophisticated writing ... Readers can enter ... somewhat ... effortlessly, as if they were reading a non-technical magazine. Second, the articles give a balanced treatment of what is indeed happening in the mathematical sciences. [The author] ... faithfully covers his beat ... Third, the primary goal of reaching readers besides professional mathematicians is kept in sight throughout ... Fourth, the articles are short and sharply focused ... Fifth, there is mathematical meat in every article ... the five volumes of What's Happening ... Together ... are remarkable not only for their excellence but also for the consistency of style maintained over a ten-year period."

-- MAA Online

Reviews of the Previous Volumes:

"This lively presentation of an amazingly wide spectrum of happenings in mathematics is impressive ... [this book] should be presented to a wide audience even outside mathematics, which could be fascinated by the ideas, concepts and beauty of the mathematical topics."

-- European Mathematical Society Newsletter

"The articles are very well written, and usually include quotes from the mathematicians who were involved in the work in question, giving the whole thing a more "human" feel. This book offers professionals a way to keep abreast of what's going on in the field and also gives us a way to share with our students and colleagues some of the excitement of doing mathematics. Don't miss it."

-- MAA Online

"An excellent source of information. Through his writing, diagrams, and sidebars, Cipra offers historical background, mathematical connections, and insight into the world of research mathematics. Throughout the book, he connects modern mathematical ideas to important applications in computer science, physics, biology, security codes, and art. He also presents in each chapter an intriguing blend of historical and contemporary mathematics. An excellent resource for high school mathematics teachers and their students."

-- Mathematics Teacher

"The perennial task of bringing mathematics before the general public attracts expositors wielding a diversity of strategies who pursue goals that range from enticing further study and inducing appreciation to merely diminishing fear. Cipra's What's Happening in the Mathematical Sciences surveys late-breaking mathematical news. Though he includes material on such familiar topics as computer chess, chaos, Escher, and cryptosystems, he also discusses less familiar territory such as quantum computers, automated theorem provers, and algorithmic algebraic geometry. Here undergraduates might easily make their first acquaintance with a topic that could shape the course of their future studies and, beyond that, their professional lives. An essential acquisition."


"Stylish format ... largely accessible to laymen ... This publication is one of the snappier examples of a growing genre from scientific societies seeking to increase public understanding of their work and its societal value."

-- Science & Government Report

"The topics chosen and the lively writing fill a notorious gap-to make the ideas, concepts and beauty of mathematics more visible for the general public ... well-illustrated ... Congratulations to Barry Cipra."

-- Zentralblatt MATH

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • New heights for number theory
  • Nothing to sphere but sphere itself
  • A mathematical twist to protein folding
  • Finite math
  • The mathematics of traffic jams
  • Rewriting history
  • It's a small, big, small, big world
  • A celestial Pas de trois
  • Think and grow rich
  • Ising on the cake
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