Category Archives: Careers in Math

Mow Your Lawn Using Math

grass

Does anybody mow their own lawns anymore?  Mr. Bezaire does :/

Well, maybe now he can use math to cut it more efficiently.  Popular Mechanics has the details here.

BADGING:

Read the article linked above.  Answer the following questions in a few sentences each:

  1. Explain the difference between “geometry” and “topology.”
  2. How does the concept of “less error” factor into the most efficient way to mow a rectangular lawn?
  3. If you have a “weird lawn”, explain briefly why you should start in an area with an odd number of connections to other areas.  What does this have to do with the Prussian city of Königsberg?

 

How Half-a-Million Home PC’s Finally Cracked an “Unsolvable” Math Problem


Many people’s home computers sit idly during the day when homeowners are away at work or school.  Did you know that some organizations allow you to connect your computer to a mainframe so that they can “borrow” bits of your operating power to work on difficult problems?  The Charity Engine is one, and it helped to solve one of history’s great unsolved math problems.

BADGING:

Watch the the first 5 minutes of the Numberphile video embedded above, and then read this brief Popular Mechanics article.

Answer the following questions in a few sentences each:

  1.  Describe the “sum of three cubes” problem (aka a “Diophantine equation”).
  2.  Explain why some numbers (like 4 or 5) will never be written as a sum of three cubes.  What mathematical property do these numbers share that makes them unwritable in this way?
  3. Why are 33 and 42 “special cases” when it comes to Diophantine equations?
  4. Explain how long it took computers to finally find a Diophantine solution to 33 and 42.
  5. Find any two Diophantine solutions/equations that weren’t shared in the video or the article.

Thanks to Mr. Victoria for sharing this article as a badging opportunity!

Who is the REAL star of “Friends”?

23-friends-cover-story-lede.w1200.h630

A data scientist studied the transcripts for every episode of the hit TV show Friends to try and determine who the real “star” of the show is.  Which Friend is the show really about? Read the article to find out more.

BADGING:

Assuming you are familiar with the show Friends (why are you doing this badge otherwise?!  There are plenty of others that might interest you more!), write a short paragraph explaining which Friend you think is the main character of the show.  Explain your reasons for making that choice.

Then read the article linked above.

In a second paragraph, explain the data scientist’s reasoning for making his choice.  Include the five categories (graph headings) that he studied and how they helped him to arrive at his conclusion.

Then, in a final paragraph, state a data point that you think the data scientist should have also included to help make his decision.  What other information do you think could help decide who the most important character is on Friends?  Do you think including this information would change the results of the study?

Thanks to Jason Kissel for suggesting this badge!

 

The Mathematics of the Black Panther

Shuri

As part of Chalkdust Magazine‘s celebration of Black Mathematician Month 2018, Dr. Nira Chamberlain discusses one of Shuri’s creations in Marvel’s Black Panther movie; T’challa’s suit, which supposedly disperses energy from impact blows and absorbs the shock to minimize damage.  Is this mathematically possible?  Read on to find out!

BADGING:

Read the article linked above.

In a paragraph, describe what would have to be true about a suit that disperses kinetic energy in the way that Black Panther’s suit does in the movie.  A suit like that hasn’t been invented yet, but a mathematical model has been made.  Describe in your own words what characteristics that suit would have in order to make the energy dispersal possible.

In a second paragraph, think of some movie tech that doesn’t yet exist (choose a favorite movie that contains some sci-fi or futuristic element to it).  If you were to make a theoretical model of that tech, what type of mathematical and scientific questions would you have to address before attempting to build a prototype?  For T’challa’s suit, mathematicians had to determine how to disperse the shock of impact.  What would have to be mathematically feasible for different movie tech?  Be sure to tell me what movie and what tech you’re discussing!

All You Need Is…Math?

UPDATE:  This video has been removed.  This badge is unavailable for now.  Will update later if it becomes available somewhere else.

The Beatles famously shared songwriting credits for all of their songs; throughout history, it’s been gradually revealed whether or not John Lennon or Paul McCartney wrote each famous Beatles song.  However, there’s one song that they were never able to agree on.  Hear how mathematicians have determined who actually wrote The Beatles’ hit “In My Life”.

BADGING:

Listen to the song above.  Then you should read this NPR article and/or listen to the interview (top left of page).

Write a brief paragraph summary explaining in your own words how mathematicians determined the authorship of “In My Life”.  Write a second paragraph hypothesizing:  Where else might this statistical method be used?  Think not just in music, but in the written word as well.  How might historians and archaeologists use this method in other instances?

Finally check out this post, wherein the author used a technique similar to “Bags of Words” to see if a machine could read recipes and create new ones.  The results are…interesting.

Fairy Circles and the Mathematics of Nature

Mathematician Dr. Corina Tarnita studies the mathematics of nature and biology, including things called “fairy circles”.  Watch the video above and read more about her work here (via Quanta).

BADGING:

Watch the video and read her interview at the link above.  Answer the following questions in a couple of complete sentences each.

  1.  Explain (from the video) her comparison of liking magic tricks to understanding how nature works.  What did she mean by this?
  2. What are fairy circles, and how does mathematics play a role in how termites help to create them?
  3. What does Dr. Tarnita hope that “patterns” and “symmetry” will help teach them about the ecosystem in the African savannah?

The Math Of Roasted Potatoes

Screen Shot 2018-01-26 at 9.42.26 AM

Chefs in Great Britain have used “maths” to determine the best way to cook roasted potatoes.  See the magic formula here (courtesy of the Sun).

BADGING:

Watch the video and read the accompanying article.  Write a paragraph that explains the difference between the “traditional” way of making roasted potatoes and the “new, mathematical” way.  What changes were made and what is the advantage?  How did chefs determine that the new way was in fact “better”?

In a second paragraph, describe another food that you think might be improved using mathematics to aid in the preparation.  Describe a hypothesis you might have about how  that food might be improved using mathematics and why you think it would be an improvement.  Give a diagram if it helps your explanation.