Welcome to the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA) blog. The IMA is the UK's learned and professional society for mathematics and its applications. We promote mathematics research, education and careers, and the use of mathematics in business, industry and commerce. Among our activities we produce academic journals, organise conferences and engage with government.

In this blog we will publish mathematical articles and news to reflect the interests of our members who come from a multiplicity of different organisations including university academics, industrial mathematicians, financiers, school teachers, scientists, civil servants etc.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

15th ECM Conference (Bristol)

A pre-conference social was held in the Hope and Anchor pub on Friday 18th November and 4 people attended and made a post-it note dodecahedron (http://twitpic.com/7fyuip) while talking and drinking.

The main event was held at the University of Bristol on Saturday 19th November. There were 5 key lectures, starting with one on "Chaos in Crystals" by Jens Marklof, followed by a talk about "Group Theory and a UKMT Appeal" by Geoff Smith. After lunch Snezana Lawrence spoke on the history of mathematics and why it matters so much and then Sean Collins gave a talk called "What can we learn from the birds and the bees? Optimality Models in Behavioural Ecology". Following the final tea break Mike Thelwall spoke about "Quanitative analysis of the social web from Twitter to YouTube".

Then while the votes for best talk were counted Erica Tyson gave an overview of the IMA and her work as the University Liaison Officer. The ECMG committee then introduced themselves and Ben Dias announced who had won the certificate for best talk.

During the coffee and lunch breaks the dodecahedron circulated with a stack of post-its and a group effort was made to construct a new one, but it remained incomplete. A rubiks cube with pictures rather than colours on each side was also solved in the breaks.

Following the conference 16 of the delegates attended a post-conference meal to continue the socialising.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Exploring uses of mathematics in fiction with Tony Mann

Tony Mann gave a lecture to the IMA East Midlands Branch last night, 'From Sylvia Plath to Bad Sex: uses of mathematics in fiction', in the Ken Edwards Building at the University of Leicester.

Tony looked at a variety of ways in which fiction has involved mathematics and mathematicians.This included fiction by mathematicians and authors who once trained as mathematicians, fiction based on mathematical ideas, fiction using mathematical structures and fiction using real and fictional mathematicians as characters.

At one point Tony spoke about the use of historical mathematicians in fiction. He gave several examples of use of Newton in fiction, some of which were more accurate and fairer than others. Since some books are written by authors who also write non-fiction, and some mix factual and fictional elements, this raised some questions which I found interesting: Does it matter how historically correct fictional portrayals of real mathematicians are? How reasonable is it to fictionalise a living person? Does the audience always realise what they are reading is fictional?

Tony maintains a list of categorised mathematical fiction on his website, originally compiled alongside his article 'From Sylvia Plath's The bell jar to the Bad Sex Award: a partial account of the uses of mathematics in fiction' (2010, BSHM Bulletin: Journal of the British Society for the History of Mathematics, 25(2):58-66), and recommended another list by Alex Kasman.

You can view a recording of a similar talk, 'Tony Mann: Some Uses Of Mathematics In Fiction', given by Tony to the London Knowledge Lab Maths-Art Seminar.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

The Math Book wins BSHM Neumann Prize

Last Christmas I received a copy of The Math Book: From Pythagoras to the 57th Dimension (Sterling Publishing) by Dr Clifford A Pickover, which offers 250 milestones in the history of mathematics. I had read a review of this in iSquared Magazine (issue 10, p. 32) which called the book "a valuable source of knowledge on mathematics, which illustrates perfectly the richness of both its ancient and recent history... [while demonstrating] that mathematics is very much a living, breathing subject with a long and exciting future ahead".

This is an attractive book in which each milestone is given a two page spread, with one page a beautiful illustration and the other a short description of the achievement, written clearly and concisely. It is very well suited to a mathematician's coffee table, being a book that could be read from cover to cover or dipped into. The book opens at c. 150 million B.C. with ants counting their steps to measure distances, and goes through to 2007, two years before the book was published, to the Mathematical Universe Hypothesis. In between, the milestones are wide-ranging and show both the elegance and beauty of mathematics itself and its importance in science and engineering.

This evening, The Math Book has been awarded the Neumann Prize 2011 by the British Society for the History of Mathematics (BSHM) during a lecture at Gresham College in London. This prize is awarded every two years for the best book in the history of mathematics aimed at a broad audience. You can read an interview with the author, Cliff Pickover, on the occasion of the award.

I am pleased that the excellent book has been rewarded in this way and that this prize acknowledges the contribution of writing on mathematics for a broad audience.