Monday, 14 July 2014

Mathematics through the eyes of the players

2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications.
To commemorate this momentous occasion not only did they have the usual conferences and celebratory talks but they also published a book.

 50 visions of mathematics is available from the OUP website for a price of £24.99. Think about it… that’s two visions of maths per pound! Who can argue with such a bargain?

Contained within this fully illustrated book you will find 50 chapters of interesting, often cutting edge and, certainly diverse mathematics. All of the articles are written from the personal view points of the authors. The individual and personal tones of the chapters gives them an authentic voice that conveys the excitement and love of the authors and will undoubtedly convince any cynical reader as to the wide ranging power of mathematics.

The authors (whose roster boasts such names as David Acheson, Simon Singh and Ian Stewart) come from many different backgrounds such as: research; teaching and science communication. So, you can be sure that the chapters are written to entertain as well as inform.

I, too, have written a chapter for the book on my favourite subject of Turing patterns. Not only am I excited at the chance to demonstrate their mathematical and visual beauty (blog posts on Turing patterns can be found here and here) to a wide audience, but I have also been immortalised in the pages of the book. When talking about the application of Turing patterns to animal skins (discussed here) I make reference to the ring tailed lemur contradicting the theory. Luckily, I had recently fed some ring tailed lemurs in Newquay zoo and so my picture (a different one below) can now be found in every copy of the book.
Myself and Lorraine feeding some very lovely lemurs at Newquay zoo.
Apart from my own ego stroking there are articles concerning the mathematics seen in the recent movie “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” written by Derek Moulton and Alain Goriely, who were actually employed by the filmmakers to come up with Moriarty’s codes. There are interesting chapters about the medical applications of mathematics from Richard Elwes and Carson C. Chow. There is even a chapter on the mathematics of murder scenes, which discusses how to calculate the original location of a set of blood splashes.

There are a few chapters that feel a little “in jokey” and not to my taste, including how different sources might quote Pythagoras’ theorem. For example you might see tweets saying
“OMG, for right angled triangle squares on sides add up :) #pythagoras”.
However, these are small details and I can think of no recent brief anthology that can give you a better range of mathematics across history and application. Perhaps, more importantly, the book gives you insights into the people behind the mathematics. It demonstrates that mathematicians are human too. We are interested in using mathematics to make the world a better place and we want to communicate these ideas to people like you.

In summary, you will know if this is book is for you. If you are a recreational scientist interested in the forefront of  mathematics then I happily recommend it.

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