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Overturned polygons: shapes with less than two sides

There is a continuum of polygons with two or more sides (see ‘Between a Square Rock and a Hard Pentagon’), including fractional-sided shapes. There is also a continuum of negative sided polygons with sides numbering below minus two (see ‘Thinking Outside the Box’), the ‘holes’ left by their positive counterparts. What happens between minus two and plus two sides? Do shapes with a shortage of edges exist, and if so, what do they look like? Well I think they do and I’m taking their side! Read on… Continue reading

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The history of pi

Pi is one of the most common mathematical symbols in use today. It appears when we calculate the area of a circle, the volume of a sphere, or the surface area of a cone. But, what do we know about pi? We all probably know that it is approximately 3.14, but what else do we know? Well, there is an endless list of interesting facts about pi that you should know. Continue reading

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Mathscon: reshaping the world’s perception of mathematics

Bertrand Russel once said that “mathematics possesses not only truth, but also supreme beauty.” Anyone who is passionate about mathematics knows that this beauty lies in concepts, not calculations. Yet somewhere along the line we have ended up with a reputation for just number crunching! Introducing Mathscon: the organisation with a mission to reshape the world’s perception of mathematics. Continue reading

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The maths ‘black box’

It’s only at university that I started to consider mathematics as a possible fully-fledged part of my life. During my second year, in December 2013, the most widespread Ebola disease outbreak in history occurred in west Africa, killing thousands of people. As part of our national exam, my friend and I decided to study the virus propagation. For one year, we modelled the disease spread. From this mathematical model, we determined a vaccine campaign strategy to eradicate the epidemic efficiently. Continue reading

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Balancing the equation

Sometimes, as scientists, we can be too focused on the details, and this clouds our vision when discussing broader topics such as diversity. The Royal Institution’s event ‘Balancing the equation‘, held on 8 October this year, avoided this pitfall and kept both eyes firmly on the big picture. The evening explored the far-reaching implications of structural racism on the past, present and future of science, and was hosted by Alex Lathbridge, a comedian, presenter and doctoral researcher in biochemistry.

Alongside Lathbridge were three guests: Lisa Kennedy, assistant curator at the Science Museum; Segun Fatumo, a senior scientist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; and Riham Satti, an entrepreneur who uses artificial intelligence to improve the hiring process. The speakers’ range of backgrounds ensured that the evening was varied, and presented a well-rounded view of the issue. Continue reading

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The mathematics of Black Panther

In 2018, I watched the excellent Marvel film Black Panther, which has taken over a billion dollars at the box office worldwide! The film had a number of themes, including the question ‘what if an African country, named Wakanda, lead the world in technology?’  The film offered a cinematic picture of this, with an important emphasis on STEM subjects.

Now, one of the most interesting characters in the film is Shuri. Wikipedia describes her character like this:

Shuri, the princess of Wakanda, designs new technology for the country. She is ‘an innovative spirit with an innovative mind’ who ‘wants to take Wakanda to a new place’. Shuri is a good role model for young black girls as well as being one of the smartest persons in the world.

An illustration of Shuri, from the cover of a Black Panther comic. Image: Stanley Lau, fair use.

One of the technologies that Shuri designed was Black Panther’s suit. The suit is special because it can distribute the kinetic energy from an impact. The idea is that the kinetic energy will not be focused on one area, but move to another part of the suit where it can be absorbed. Okay, nice Hollywood science fiction stuff… or is it? Watching this scene took me back to my postgraduate days, when I was doing an MSc in Industrial Mathematical Modelling at Loughborough University. Here, I did a dissertation titled ‘Impact on an adhesive joint’. Continue reading

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David Blackwell and me

When I first came across the great Black mathematician and statistician, David Blackwell (1919-2010), circa 1975, I was actually informed that he was white. He was also then Irish. Or, so I was told by a triumphal fellow MSc economics and econometrics student at Southampton University, himself Irish, and now also a professor of economics.

The occasion of this initial meeting with Blackwell was our econometrics class’s introduction to the eponymous Rao-Blackwell theorem—a fundamental result in the theory of optimal statistical estimators. In simple terms, this theorem shows how to improve upon a rudimentary unbiased estimator of a statistical parameter, and indeed, get the best unbiased estimator of that parameter, when certain technical conditions are satisfied. I remember being struck by the beauty of this result. Perhaps it was my excitement about it that led my Irish colleague to try to deflate me by claiming his own racial and national part-ownership for the theorem by telling me that Blackwell was a white Irishman—Rao’s Indian extraction being self-evident. Maybe, more charitably, he was just engaging in supposedly characteristic Irish blarney, without malice. Regardless, I never bothered to check his claim—and, why should I have doubted a fellow student’s word about something as inconsequential as someone’s nationality, as I thought then?

So, for almost a decade afterwards, I happily persisted in the belief that Blackwell was indeed Irish and blithely assured others of this. I must have given much wry amusement to those who knew otherwise. It was not until the academic year 1984-85, which I spent as a joint fellow at CORE (Centre for Operations Research and Econometrics) and IRES (Institut de Recherches Économiques et Sociales) at Université Catholique de Louvain-la-Neuve, that I was finally disabused of my misinformation by another researcher. Continue reading

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Black Mathematician Month 2018

Happy October everyone and welcome to the second instalment of Black Mathematician Month! As you may have noticed, diversity in higher education has been in the news a lot recently and this is not without reason. We strongly believe that mathematics should be open to everyone, regardless of education, age or background. There has been very little progress in improving diversity in our field, and this is why we, as mathematicians and science communicators, think it is important to continue the discussion of the effects, as well as, what needs to be done for things to change. As a result we are working to actively promote the work of black mathematicians throughout the entirety of October alongside Black History Month in what we are calling Black Mathematician Month.
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Eight things you didn’t notice in Issue 07

On 19 October, Chalkdust issue 08 will be released (don’t forget to book your free ticket to our launch event). To help you to get as excited about the launch as we are, here are some of the things we hid in issue 07 that you may or may not have noticed.

1. No more editorial

Inspired by Katie Steckles’s article about the game No more women, we made the moves “no more vowels” and “no more consonants” in the editorial. With all the letters included, the editorial would’ve read:

I (no more vowels) expect this text is very hard to read, but maybe some of you will enjoy deciphering it. As Katie says in her article, we would classify banning vowels as a particularly mean move. But our next one is probably meaner…

We’re (no more consonants) really not expecting anyone to work out what this bit says, but good luck if you’re trying! Enjoy the magazine!

2. Scorpions

As usual, the scorpions that escaped from issue 03’s horoscope are still running around the magazine.


3. More scorpions

In issue 07, one scorpion did a particularly good job of hiding.


4. Crossnumber header

Crossnumber fans may have noticed that the square pattern in the header of the issue 07 crossnumber looked familiar, as the pattern was taken from the top right-hand corner of the issue 06 crossnumber’s grid.

5. Crossnumber grid

The black squares in the grid of the issue 07 crossnumber were arranged in a spiral. If you start from the outside and count inwards, the white squares in the spiral make a sequence you will be familiar with.

6. Captain Scarlet

One of the letters sent to Dirichlet was written by Paul Metcalfe from Winchester. This is the real name of Captain Scarlet.


7. Galois Knot Theory

The reviews page features a brief review of Galois Knot Theory, a book that was randomly generated by mathgen. Fittingly, the review was randomly generated using a Markov chain and the other reviews on the page.


8. Fields love

No, Fields medals are not actually heart shaped.