
The California Community College mathematics controversy
Eloy Ortiz Oakley, the Chancellor of the California Community College system, recently recommended that intermediate algebra should no longer be required to earn an associate degree, excerpt for students majoring in some field of mathematics, science or engineering (see also this Physics Today report):
Collegelevel algebra is probably the greatest barrier for students — particularly firstgeneration students, students of color — obtaining a credential. … [I]f we know we’re disadvantaging large swaths of students who we need in the workforce, we have to question why. And is algebra really the only means we have
Continue reading Does mathematical training pay off in the long run?
The 1897 Indiana pi episode
Many of us have heard of the Indiana pi episode, where a bill submitted to the Indiana legislature, written by one Edward J. Goodwin, claimed to have squared the circle, yielding a value of pi = 3.2. Although the bill passed the Indiana House, it narrowly failed in the Senate and never became law, due largely to the intervention of Prof. C.A. Waldo of Purdue University, who happened to be at the Indiana legislature on other business. The story is always good for a laugh to lighten up a dull mathematics lecture.
It is worth
Continue reading Pi and the collapse of peer review
We have all seen interesting patterns of tiling the plane with interlocking shapes, known as a tessellation. The process of producing a complete inventory of all possible tessellation has resisted solution for over a century, until now.
The honor goes to Michael Rao of the Ecole Normale Superieure de Lyon in France. He has completed a computerassisted proof to complete the inventory of pentagonal shapes, the last remaining holdout. He identified 371 scenarios for how corners of pentagons might fit together, and then checked, by means of an algorithm, each scenario. In the end, his computer program determined that the
Continue reading French mathematician completes proof of tessellation conjecture
Hollywood stars as public spokespersons
Nowadays it is not at all unusual for Hollywood stars to lend their public celebrity status to endorse or promote some cause. For example, Angelina Jolie has lent her name and support to international efforts dealing with the refugee crisis. Sean Penn personally assisted efforts to deal with the Haiti earthquake crisis.
What’s more, some Hollywood stars and celebrities have bona fide scientific credentials and achievements. Perhaps the most notable example is Hedy Lamarr, an AustrianAmerican actress who starred in movies such as the 1938 film Algiers, directed by John Cromwell, and the 1949 film
Continue reading Are Hollywood stars qualified to comment on science?
C.P. Snow’s “Two Cultures”
Back in 1959, the influential British scholar C. P. Snow gave a lecture entitled The two cultures and the scientific revolution. In this discourse Snow warned of a widening divide between the scientific world on one hand and the humanities on the other: “This polarization is a sheer loss to us all.” Snow wrote,
A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice
Continue reading Carlos Rovelli’s “Reality Is Not What It Seems”
We are pleased to announce the Jonathan M. Borwein Commemorative Conference, which will be held 2529 September 2017 in Newcastle, Australia.
The conference will focus on the five areas of Jonathan’s Borwein’s research:
Applied analysis, optimisation and convex functions. Chairs: Regina Burachik and Guolin Li. Education. Chairs: Judyanne Osborn and Namoi Borwein. Experimental mathematics and visualization. Chair: David H. Bailey. Financial mathematics. Chair: Qiji (Jim) Zhu. Number theory, special functions and pi. Chair: Richard Brent.
A total of 36 speakers will give presentations.
The meeting will be held at Noah’s on the Beach in Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia, which
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Is the universe finetuned for intelligent life? Astrophysicist Geraint Lewis and cosmologist Luke Barnes, both at the University of Sydney, Australia, wade into this perplexing and controversial arena in a new book, published by Cambridge University Press, entitled A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos.
The book presents a comprehensive analysis of the issue, delving into nuclear physics, astrophysics, cosmology, biology and philosophy. It is entertainingly written, yet does not compromise in detail. The authors mercifully relegate some of the more technical material to footnotes, but even the footnotes are remarkably useful and well documented. The book is
Continue reading Is the universe finetuned for intelligent life?
Yves Meyer, courtesy Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters
The Abel Prize
On 21 March 2017 the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters announced that the 2017 Abel Prize for mathematics, thought by many to be on a par with the Nobel Prize, has been awarded to Yves Meyer for his groundbreaking work on wavelets.
Many of the leading awards made in the field of mathematics are for highly abstract theoretical work. But wavelet theory is certainly in the area of applied mathematics, as it is now used in many different realworld arenas. Applications include data compression, acoustic noise
Continue reading Yves Meyer wins the Abel Prize for wavelet work
What do exoplanets, fourbillionyearold life, Fermi’s paradox and zeroone laws of probability theory have to do with each other? Quite a bit, actually. Let us review these developments, one by one:
New exoplanet discoveries
Depiction of the seven exoplanets of the TRAPPIST1 system. Courtesy NASA.
On 22 February 2017, a consortium of NASA and European astronomers announced that there are not just one but seven planets that potentially could harbor life, all orbiting a yellow dwarf star named TRAPPIST1, about 40 lightyears (235 trillion miles or 378 trillion km) from earth. This is clearly a remarkable discovery, adding seven to
Continue reading Exoplanets, 4 billionyearold life, Fermi’s paradox and zeroone laws
The book Reproducibility: Principles, Problems, Practices, and Prospects, which contains a chapter coauthored by the late Jonathan Borwein and the present authors (Victoria Stodden and David H. Bailey), has won a 2017 Prose Award (“Honorable Mention”) in the category “Textbook/Best in Physical Sciences and Mathematics.” These prizes are awarded annually in 53 categories by the Professional and Scholarly Publishing division of the Association of American Publishers.
This volume consists of 27 chapters, grouped into six sections, which collectively address questions of reproducibility in a broad range of scientific disciplines, ranging from medicine, physical sciences, life sciences, social sciences and even
Continue reading Reproducibility: Principles, Problems, Practices, and Prospects

