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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Throwback Fact: Sangaku

 Image: ca.wikipedia.org
Throughout much of the 1600s through the 1800s, Japan was largely isolated from the West. During this time, the Japanese samurai thrived, along with feudalism and the Buddhist religion. A tradition known as Sangaku (roughly translated: Japanese temple geometry) was born in this era. Japanese people from all social and educational classes would work to solve difficult geometry problems and inscribe the solutions on tablets, then hung the tablets on the roofs of Shinto and Buddhist temples as votive. Many of these problems are heavily focused on circles, an uncommon method in the West in the same time period.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Problem of the Week

 Click to enlargen!
Happy Monday from the still-frozen tundra of New England. Like each Monday, I have shared the above problem to our Twitter, Google +, and Facebook pages. Today's problem, more logic than straight mathematics, was adapted from this puzzle site. I had actually encountered this problem once before, but I thought it merited a detailed explanation.

My solution lies below...

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Throwback Fact: Hypatia of Alexandria

 image: commons.wikimedia.org
Of course we all know of Plato, Aristotle, Pythagorus… but what about female mathematicians in the ancient world? There weren’t many. In fact, the first woman mathematician about whom we have reasonably secure knowledge is Hypatia (circa 370 – 415 CE).

It is likely that the reason Hypatia became a skilled mathematician, philosopher, and astronomer is because she was exposed to science at an early age. Her father, Theon of Alexandria, was a distinguished professor of mathematics. Hypatia went on to teach mathematics at the same university as her father, and was always cited as a charismatic tutor by her students.

 A depiction of Hypatia just before her death, by Charles William Mitchellimage: en.wikipedia.org
Hypatia is  unfortunately not remembered for any significant contributions to mathematics. Her works were all lost, though it is known that she created a commentary on Diophantus’s Arithmetica. The legends surrounding Hypatia stem from curiosity about her death. According to the limited sources available, Hypatia (a self-proclaimed pagan) drove a wedge between two political figures of Alexandria. She was blamed for increasing tensions and even riots between Christians and non-Christians as the church and state fought for power. Legends tell that Hypatia was brutally flayed and burned alive by Christian zealots in a church.

Hypatia’s legacy is so popular that it was adapted for screenplay in  the 2009 film Agora. While very little facts remain about her, it is important to remember Hypatia, the first woman in mathematics.

Sources:
The Math Book by Clifford A. Pickover
The closing years of Greek mathematics by Jesse Osborn

Monday, February 16, 2015

Problem of the Week

Another Monday, another Problem of the Week. This problem was found on this website and while it's not mathematically complex, it involves a new layer of decoding that we haven't featured in a while. I thought it was particularly fitting because of the Alan Turing movie that is up for a few Oscars! So our problem of the week lies below:
 Click to enlargen!
Once again, I've written up my solution to the problem. The image came out blue- I'm not quite sure why. Before you scroll down to see my answer, here's a hint: "Crispin" Bacon (or, you know, Francis Bacon) was particularly interested in cipher systems.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

It's Ridiculous: The Price of Textbooks Today

 Intro to Stats digital textbook- \$9.95
I’m a college student. And I love learning- I really do. But students today have to jump through more hoops than ever before in order to complete their education. There are more competitive applications and admissions exams, more scholarship applications, more loans, more hidden costs, and, most importantly, there is more student debt. I did well in high school AP classes, I aced the SAT and ACT, and I applied early to colleges. While I’m extremely happy with where I ended up, there is one aspect of my two years at university (so far) that I would change in a heartbeat: the textbook bubble.

Students across the nation recognize that the rising price of academic textbooks is a problem. I’m very lucky- I have a great academic scholarship, so my parents are able to financially support me in the textbook department (thanks so much again, Mom and Dad!), but that doesn’t stop me from feeling sticker-shock and price-induced guilt.

“Wow, Mom, I’m so sorry,” I said over the phone while standing in the aisle of the university bookstore in the Fall of 2014. “My physics book is \$280.” Of course I had to buy the book new- it came with a package for the online software we used for homework in the course. And that was just physics. I was also enrolled in a French class (a different book from my previous semester of French), an upper-level math course (two smaller books, think about the size of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for each), and an honors seminar on modern art (special ordered for the university bookstore book). My total price tag at the bookstore: \$450.

And that’s just one semester of my story. College students around the country have different circumstances than mine: some struggle to pay the campus bookstore prices, some search online for discounts and end up buying sometimes outdated editions, and others -- a staggering 65 percent of students according to this article [9] --  are willing to forgo buying an assigned book altogether because of the price. If anything is more ridiculous than the prices students are forced to pay, it’s this: Students are going to great lengths to save money at the expense of a coherent learning experience. Professors choose a specific book to accompany their course because the material is relevant. If 65% of students who can’t afford full-price textbooks simply don’t buy the book, they’re missing out on all of the material not covered in lectures.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Math Minds: David Massey

David Massey, a full professor of mathematics at Northeastern University and the founder of the Worldwide Center of Mathematics, sat down with our math intern Tori for an interview this week. He is the first in hopefully a string of mathematicians who will be interviewed for this new blog series.
 David B. Massey, Ph.D
Are you currently involved in any research?
Yes - I study abstract notions of space in any number of dimensions. I prove things about what those spaces look like at places where they’re not smooth [singularities].

How do you picture those?
You don’t really. You picture what happens in low dimensions and hope that it gives you intuition for the higher dimensions. You can’t picture the higher dimensions, so you prove theorems that describe them. I’m interested in singularities because they’re a great blend of topology, commutative algebra, algebraic geometry… a lot of stuff.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Throwback Fact: Cardioids

 image: commons.wikimedia.org
In honor of Valentine’s Day, we wanted our throwback fact of the week to be heart themed. What in math looks like a heart? A cardioid, of course!

The cardioid was named in 1741 by Italian mathematician Giovanni Salvemini de Castillon, though it was already a studied shape. It is a degenerate case (with no internal pedals) of the limaÃ§on, a figure formed when a circle rolls around the outside of a circle  of equal radius.

How does one generate the cardioid? This Wolfram Mathworldpage gives us the equations.

What makes a cardioid relevant today? Aside from its importance in geometry, cardioids are a shape seen in acoustics. The cardioid microphone is nam
ed so not because the microphone is shaped like a heart, but because the sound pick-up pattern is heart shaped. The shape allows a microphone to be used in a loud setting, because the microphone will pick up only sounds very close to it within the cardioid spread. For more detail on this topic, click here.

Possibly the most important application of the cardioid for this week, however, is that they produce beautiful looking, heart-shaped curves. You can see a few members of the Center’s attempts to draw hearts below. Although perhaps we should leave the heart-shaped curves to geometrically precise cardioids.

In the image above, Tori drew out a few sample heart curves with some imprecise geometrical backing. Then Zach, Adam, Ruairi and Tori all drew heart curves their own way.

We hope you have a good weekend, whether you celebrate Valentine's day or not! Have you had a chance to watch our new video on the Monty Hall problem? See it here:

Monday, February 9, 2015

Problem of the Week

It's another snowy, snowy Monday in New England, but the Center of Math team is hard at work to continue bringing you math content. Like our Problem of the Week! This week's problem (found on mathschallenge.net) is short, but tricky. It doesn't take long to solve as long as you can make the creative first two steps.
 Click the picture to enlargen
My solution can be found below...

Friday, February 6, 2015

Princess Awesome Kickstarter

First, I'll tell you to click here to visit the Kickstarter's main page.

Second, I dare you to tell me those dresses aren't cute.

Third, I'll explain why this is important to me.

 A young lady in the "Pi" print play dress
Gender biasing in academia is slowly, slowly dissolving. I'm lucky to be going through college at a time where women are encouraged to go into Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields. This infographic from 2013 describes that women in undergraduate studies earn 50% of all bachelor's degrees in Science and Engineering. There are many disparities within STEM, for example, men earn 82% of bachelors degrees in engineering, while women are more likely to major in psychology or biology. But even with the disparities, there is no denying that women are (finally) becoming a true force in the STEM fields.

Even so, when I tell aquaintances that I'm majoring in mathematics, I can't count how many times I've heard something like "Just math? No business?" or "Wow, you must be so smart," or "That's so brave!" There's always a tone of surprise.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Throwback Fact: The Pythagorean Theorem

 The Pythagorean Theoremimage: commons.wikimedia.org
Let’s talk about something everybody knows: the Pythagorean Theorem. It’s been drilled into students’ heads from the age of around 13. A squared plus B squared equals C squared. It’s necessary for 9th grade level geometry. This theorem seems second nature to almost everyone. We’ve used it for years, we know it works, and it’s so easy that even, for example, a novelist who never works with math would still know it by heart. Who came up with it? What makes it so simple, so clean and important?

The Center on College Admissions Exams

Here at the Worldwide Center of Mathematics, Tori, an intern working as the Assistant Director of Mathematical Content, has been hard at work creating new math resources and posts. She’s recently starred in several short videos that were made to help students study for the math section of the ACT (the next exam is February 7th). Watch the playlist here! Tori is currently a math student at Northeastern University in Boston, and truly enjoys breaking down math problems into simpler, understandable pieces.

Here's one of Tori's first ACT videos

From a big-picture perspective, we want you, the students, parents, or teachers who watch these videos, to think of the Center of Mathematics as your main resource for math help. Our founder, David B. Massey, has given a multitude of lectures on his books and upper-level mathematics that are all available on our Youtube channel. We are not just a textbook publisher; we are a network of teachers and resources, and we are here to help students learn the intricacies of their mathematics courses.

A video from the second ACT shoot

We know that standardized, college-admission tests may seem daunting. They put a lot of pressure on the student, both in terms of time and emotion. They require quick recall of subjects learned all throughout high school. Our videos are meant to help train you to approach ACT or SAT math problems as simply as possible. Often you’ll see Tori use the same methods in several videos- that’s because she knows the techniques to simplify the problems. Math isn’t everyone’s favorite subject, but with Tori’s help (and the help of past and future interns), we can hopefully ease the burden and relax the stigma that is associated with mathematics on standardized tests.

If you have any questions or suggestions for future videos, let us know in the comments!