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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Math and the Earth (and a Giveaway!)

Math intern Tori and two friends in Center of Math wristbands out in nature.
Find out how to get your own at the bottom of the post!
In the Center of Math's 100th blog post, let's talk about Monther Earth. 

Math and nature go together. Despite the math quote of the week that we posted last Sunday, I think that math is not a construct of the human mind- it’s always existed and it always will. This is evidenced all over. Sunflower seeds are arranged on the flower in a golden spiral, the ratio between your forearm and hand is the Golden Ratio, objects fall to Earth at (ignoring air resistance) an exponential rate, and the fractal patterns found on Romanesco broccoli (pictured below with a sunflower) are mesmerizing. In fact, the universe may even be made of math.

This article hits the nail on the head for me. Paintings, poetry, and music can do a good job of capturing a natural phenomenon. “But a mathematician could do it with greater precision and predictive power.” Let’s look at an example that I mentioned above- Galilieo discovered centuries ago the equation d=16t2 where distance d (in feet) that an object falls is equal to 16 times the time t (in seconds) squared that an object is falling.

A short movie clip could describe this phenomenon accurately enough- we could for example watch a bowling ball and tennis ball fall 183 feet to the ground off of the Tower of Pisa, and we could see that the time it took to reach the Earth is about 3.38 seconds. However, using the formula given by Galileo, mathematicians don’t need to actually observe a situation like the one we described. We could drop an object off the Sears Tower, Angel Falls, or the Burj Khalifa (still ignoring air resistance) and calculate the time it will take to reach the Earth. Paintings and poetry can describe nature, but only mathematics can describe an infinite number of possibilities in nature.

So in honor of Earth Day today, I invite everyone to get outside in nature! Find a natural fractal, find an example of the golden spiral, or observe a natural phenomenon that can be accurately described only with mathematics. If you happen to take a picture, tweet it to @centerofmath with the hashtag #earthdaymath; we’d love to see what you find.

And, in honor of our 100th blog post (a nice, round, natural number), one of the wristbands from the top image may be yours! We’re giving away 100 of them, one in each of our next 100 personal printed textbook orders. Get yours today!


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