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Taking the (mathematically) perfect picture at the Leaning Tower Of Pisa

Hundreds, perhaps thousands of tourists visit Pisa every day —mainly for its famous leaning tower. They rush from the train station, through the bridges and medieval alleys just to stand near the tower and take that picture they have dreamed of, posing in as many creative (and sometimes ridiculous!) ways as imaginable. The basic one is the Power Ranger, pretending to push the tower back to its vertical position, but there are many others: “I’m going to eat a tilted gelato”; or groups that pretend to push the tower as if it was Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima; or lovely couples, perhaps on their honeymoon, pushing the tower, each one on opposite sides (aww). Continue reading

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The croissant equation

If you have a sweet tooth, then perhaps you enjoy just standing outside a fancy bakery and observing the many cakes and bakes from the shop, from their indulgent red velvet cupcakes, creamy sponges or decadent brownies. Cakes, cookies and cupcakes are complicated pieces of baking engineering which require sophisticated techniques to get the many flavours and textures into the single bite that you enjoy so much. Continue reading

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In conversation with Marcus du Sautoy

For many people, Marcus du Sautoy might just be the most recognisable face in modern mathematics (although Carol Vorderman fans may disagree with this assertion!). He writes regularly for several national UK newspapers, is a frequent guest on the BBC and is about to release his fifth book. He has also taken mathematics to some more unconventional places, including the Glastonbury festival, the Royal Opera house and the Barbican. His academic work focuses on number theory and group theory, something that he says appeals to him due to its inherent structure, and because once you have the right idea “it kind of runs itself”. This love for big ideas and the story of mathematical discovery will be familiar to anyone who has ever seen him enthusiastically explain one of his favourite subjects, Euclid’s proof that there are infinitely many primes, on radio, television or in print.

The author of the article and Marcus du Sautoy standing, smiling, in du Sautoy's study

I feel sorry for all the toys with composite numbers on them.

However, despite his broad research background and his familiarity with, dare we say it, intimidating-sounding concepts such as ‘zeta functions of infinite-dimensional Lie algebras’, du Sautoy assures us that he is not the sort of person who “gets things really quickly”. This, he says, has helped him become effective at communicating mathematics—you must “get in the head of your audience” and understand why they aren’t comfortable with a concept, or “find the thing that they get, which you can use” to take them on the same journey that you have been through on your own road to understanding. In short, it is empathy.

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To share, or not to share

The Montagues and the Capulets have never been friends and Juliet is quite aware of this. Even at her young age, she knows that her love for Romeo is an impossible dream her father will never accept. So, she designs a strategic plan. She will take a couple of sleeping pills, just enough to make her look like she is dead to trick everyone into thinking that she has passed away. Brilliant! If everything goes right, she will always be happy with Romeo… but if things go wrong… well, you never know. Continue reading

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Should you buy a Valentine’s day present?

Valentine’s day is just around the corner and you are still not sure whether or not you should buy your beloved one a present.  It’s a tough call. Should you spend money on buying your partner some chocolates and a teddy bear (that no one wants anyway), or will you risk it and bring only a charming smile to your romantic dinner? Continue reading

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Catching criminals with maths

As a result of decades of empirical research, crime science has emerged as the leading multidisciplinary approach to develop new ways to tackle crime and terrorism. As opposed to traditional criminologists, crime scientists commonly use a broad spectrum of different disciplines and sciences to achieve their aim of cutting crime. Using knowledge from chemistry, geography and physics, to architecture, public health, psychology and information technology, crime science has been able to offer new solutions to the most pressing issues that impact on the health and security of millions of people. Among all the fields and disciplines used, applied mathematics, statistics and econometrics are perhaps the most common tools used by crime scientists.  Continue reading

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The spider witch project

If spiders could count all the way up to forty, calculate angles and tensions, then perhaps we could explain why their webs all follow a similar pattern, having a similar number of strings and turns and flips… but the reality is that they (probably) can’t, so the fact that webs are similar must be because spiders are really good at minimising functions! Continue reading

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Why I hate an empty bus stop

Every time I walk into an empty bus stop, I feel like I will have to wait for a much longer time until the next bus arrives. Why am I the first passenger to arrive? And, more importantly, how much longer do I have to wait, now that I know that I am the first passenger in the queue? Chances are that the last bus left the stop just seconds ago, therefore the stop is empty.

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Cracking the Guess Who? board game

Does this person have ginger hair?
  Is this person a boy?
  Is she wearing a hat?
  Is your person Anita?

Maybe everyone has played Guess Who? the board game where you try to guess which character your opponent has before they find out yours. For those who have never played Guess Who?, the game goes as follows: each player picks a card at random, on which will be drawn the face of a character. In turns, the two players ask each other yes/no questions to try and guess who their opponent has picked. A board with all the images of the characters initially standing up helps the player keep track of which ones have been eliminated along the way. Continue reading