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Math Digest

On Media Coverage of Math

Edited by Mike Breen and Annette Emerson, AMS Public Awareness Officers
Contributors:
Mike Breen (AMS), Claudia Clark (writer and editor), Rachel Crowell (2015 AMS Media Fellow), Annette Emerson (AMS), Samantha Faria (AMS), and Allyn Jackson (Deputy Editor, Notices of the AMS)


Unusual way of cutting pizza

On slicing pizza, by Rachel Crowell. (Photo courtesy of Joel Haddley.)

"The news should start with mathematics, then poetry, and move down from there," from The Humans, by Matt Haig.

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


See also: The AMS Blog on Math Blogs: Mathematicians tour the mathematical blogosphere. PhD mathematicians Evelyn Lamb and Anna Haensch blog on blogs that have posts related to mathematics research, applied mathematics, mathematicians, math in the news, mathematics education, math and the arts, and more. Recent posts: "There’s a New Prime! And It Looks Like…Wait…What?" and "Today's Post Is Brought To You By The Letter P," both by Anna Haensch.

On Grothendieck's mathematical scribbles, by Allyn Jackson

This article gives a brief overview of a three-way legal battle that is brewing over the thousands of pages of writings left behind by Alexander Grothendieck, on his death in November 2014. The combatants in the case are Grothendieck's children, the French national library, and the University of Montpellier. "Grothendieck's five children are disputing what they say is the paltry valuation of 45,000 euros [approximately US$50,000] placed on at least 30,000 pages of the documents by the Bibliothèque Nationale de France," the article says. "They are also disputing the claim of the University of Montpellier to own another 20,000 pages given to Grothendieck’s alma mater by a former pupil in 2012." Whether the papers contain mathematical work is unclear. In the last 25 years of his life, Grothendieck lived as a recluse in a village in the Pyrenees and devoted himself to thinking and writing, often about spiritual matters. He was a brilliant writer and an iconoclastic thinker, so hopes are high that his writings will contain much of interest. The article notes that wealthy universities in the United States are eyeing the Grothendieck papers with interest and "open cheque books."

See "Alexander Grothendieck: Legal battle over 'scribblings' of 20th century's 'greatest mathematician'," by John Litchfield, The Independent, 15 January 2016. Also of interest: "Who Is Alexander Grothendieck?" by Winfried Scharlau, Notices of the AMS, September 2008.

--- Allyn Jackson (Posted 1/22/16)

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On a mathematical tour of Picasso and Pollock, by Claudia Clark.

In his December entry to The Huffington Post, mathematician Dan Rockmore writes about two Manhattan art shows that "bring together mathematics and art in wonderful ways." The first is the Frank Stella retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the other is a three-part show at The Nancy Hoffman Gallery. In this post, Rockmore discusses three more Manhattan exhibits, each of which can be found at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). The first, Endless House, Rockmore describes as "a lovely small show of architectural models that includes homes inspired by and even named for the fundamental mathematical objects the 'torus' (Preson Scott Cohen's 'Torus House') and a Möbius band (the Bos/van Berke Moebius house)." The second exhibit contains approximately 50 Jackson Pollock works from the early 1930s to the early 1950s. Rockmore writes about Pollock's "drip paintings" and the 1995 work of physicist Richard Taylor, who used the mathematics of fractal geometry to study (and authenticate) these paintings. The third is an exhibit of more than 100 sculptures created by Picasso, one of the founders of cubism. Rockmore makes a link between the turn-of-the-century discovery of special relativity--and the subsequent popularization of four dimensions--and many cubist early works, including Picasso's "Guitar."

See "Artful Geometry," by Dan Rockmore. Huffington Post, 11 January 2016.

--- Claudia Clark

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Media coverage of the 2016 Joint Mathematics Meetings, by Rachel Crowell

The Joint Mathematics Meetings (JMM), the largest mathematics meeting in the world, were held by the American Mathematical Society (AMS) and Mathematical Association of America (MAA) on January 6-9, 2016 at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle.  
Several media outlets covered the event. Here is a summary of the coverage:
*General JMM coverage

  • Dan Cassuto of King5-TV interviewed Alison Martin, a conference presenter who uses mathematics to create geometric art out of home-grown bamboo from her garden. Martin received a grant to travel to JMM from Italy. She struggled with math in school and describes her art as, "a way into mathematics." See "6,000 mathematicians meeting in Seattle," by Dan Cassuto. King5-TV, 8 January 2016.
  • KCPQ-TV Channel 13 interviewed Eric Landquist of Kutztown University about the probability of the Seattle Seahawks beating the Minnesota Vikings on January 10th.  Landquist said the Seahawks had, “a 3 in 5 chance” of winning against the Vikings on January 10th and a “1 in 6” chance of returning to the Super Bowl (the Seahawks did win the first game against the Vikings but lost the following week to the Super Bowl-bound Carolina Panthers). KCPQ-TV, 9 January 2016.

*Who Wants to Be a Mathematician (WWTBAM) competition coverage

  • Eric Jensen of KOMO-TV covered the WWTBAM competition on January 7th. The competition brought ten top high school students from around the nation to compete for a $10,000 prize. Ankan Bhattacharya won this year’s contest. His award included $5,000 for himself and $5,000 for his school’s math department.  In Jensen’s video, Bhattacharya provides a tip for future contestants. He says, "The most important thing I feel like is not to stare at the screen," during the competition and to, "Read the whole question and just focus on the important parts." To watch Jensen’s video, click here.
  • India New England News noted that this year’s first and second-place WWTBAM winners--Ankan Bhattacharya and Karthik Karnik--are both Indian-American. In a video that accompanies the story, Bhattacharya said he likes math because, "Math is more of an art form": "Indian-Americans Bhattacharya and Karnik Win First and Second Prize in National Math Competition." India New England News, 9 January 2016.
  • Jerry Large of The Seattle Times noted that Kelly Zhang made WWTBAM competition history when she became the first young female to make it to the final round. See “Mathematicians showcase students doing what they love," by Jerry Large. The Seattle Times, 11 January 2016.

--- Rachel Crowell (posted 2/1/16)

 

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On slicing pizza, by Rachel Crowell

Unusual way of cutting pizza

(Photo courtesy of Joel Haddley.)

Imagine serving homemade pizza to a group of children with strong preferences about crust and toppings. All children in the group will be aware of the amount of pizza given to each child. You wonder: Is there a way you can slice the pizza that will result in equal-sized pieces with different properties based on what each child wants?  Yes (an example is pictured above). A recent article in New Scientist describes how mathematics--specifically monohedral disk tiling--can help you tackle this problem in a few simple steps, as shown in the chart below:

Process for cutting pizza First, you must decide on an odd number of sides that you want each of your pieces of pizza to have. The curved pieces are described by the number of sides they have. For example, if you want to cut the pizza into five-sided slices, your slices with be 5-gons. This pattern continues. Joel Haddley told New Scientist, "Mathematically there is no limit whatsoever" to the number of sides your slices can have, but the logistics of exceeding 9-gon slices may be challenging.

Once you have decided on the number of sides for your pieces, the next step is to grab your already-cooked pizza and start slicing. Starting at one side of the pizza, cut in a curved pattern to the opposite side of the pizza. Starting from another side of the pizza, make another cut to the side of the pizza opposite the side where you started your second cut. Repeat this step until the number of curved cuts you have made is equal to the number of sides you want your slices to have. For example, if you want 7-gon slices, make seven such cuts. Next, divide each slice in half. The resulting number of identically-shaped slices will be four times the number of sides your slices have. For example, if you cut a pizza into 7-gon slices using this method, you will end up with 28 identically-shaped pieces. If you want to make the pizza-consumption experience even more thrilling for your young guests, you can create eccentrically-shaped pieces by slicing a wedge out of one corner of each shape.

Haddley told New Scientist that while he has used the results of his work with colleague Stephen Worsley to slice real pizzas, he is unsure if there are other applications of their results.  For now, we can all at least rest assured that there are ways to divide a pizza equally among people who want their slices to have different properties.

I dare you to try this interesting technique the next time it’s your turn to slice a pizza.

See "Mathematicians invent new way to slice pizza into exotic shapes," by Jacob Aron. New Scientist, 8 January 2016. Read Haddley and Worsley’s publication “Infinite families of monohedral disk tilings.”

--- Rachel Crowell (posted 1/21/16)

 

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On performing vs. learning, by Samantha Faria

It is not uncommon for teachers to begin the school year with a mathematics test, presumably to learn more about what the students already know, but this method is not used in English or history class. Students learn best in an environment where, "they feel free to try ideas, fail, and revise their thinking." By testing students so often, with short, closed questions, they do not get to try out various ideas and are often most worried about their grade. Students need to be quick with their answers yet mathematicians most often think "carefully and deeply" and understand that it can take years to arrive at a solution. "When educators teach real mathematics--a growth subject of depth and connections--the opportunities for learning increase and classrooms become filled with happy, excited, and engaged math students."

See "The Math-Class Paradox," by Jo Boaler. The Atlantic, 31 December 2015. You may also like a short video of 2016 Who Wants to Be a Mathematician champ Ankan Bhattacharya comparing most math instruction with teaching art by using painting by numbers.

--- Samantha Faria (Posted 1/22/16)

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An exhibition about Ada Lovelace, by Claudia Clark.

If you're going to be in London between now and the end of March, you'll want to stop by the Science Museum to see an exhibit honoring the life and mathematical work of Ada Lovelace on the bicentenary of her birth. In addition to being the daughter of the famous poet Lord Byron, she was, Robinson writes, "the first person to discuss the concept of programming a computer: In the 1840s, she issued an extensive and farsighted commentary on a calculating machine known as the Analytical Engine, created by the mathematician and inventor Charles Babbage." The exhibit contains Babbage's Difference Engine and Analytical Engine, as well as a model of a Jacquard loom: a type of loom, invented in 1805, that used punch cards to automate the process of weaving. Also on display are two portraits of Lovelace, as well as "originals of her letters from the collections of the British Library and the Bodleian Library...which allows the visitor to follow the progress of her work and her interactions with Babbage, Michael Faraday, and others."

See "The enchantress of numbers," by Andrew Robinson. Science, 11 December 2015, page 1323.

--- Claudia Clark

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Math Digest Archives || 2016 || 2015 || 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.




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