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.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Celebrating Neptune's first birthday with Chris Linton

Voyager image of Neptune
(Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Prof. Chris Linton (Loughborough) opened his talk in Loughborough University's Schofield Building with the above picture of Neptune, taken by the Voyager spacecraft in 1989. Earlier this year, on 12th July 2011, Neptune arrived for the first time at the same heliocentric longitude as when it was discovered on 23rd September 1846. In this sense, then, 12th July 2011 was one Neptunian year since the discovery of the planet.

Chris argued that the interesting element of this story to mathematicians was that Neptune was discovered first through theory. Chris recounted the story of the discovery of Uranus by Herschel in 1781. Uranus followed an orbit that differed quite quickly (by 1788) from predictions. The predictions were recalculated to take into account the perturbations due to Jupiter and Saturn and this helped for a while, but still Uranus deviated from the predicted path by the early 1800s. Unless Newton's Laws were wrong, there must be a planet outside Uranus which was affecting its orbit.

Chris explained how this novel theoretical challenge was taken up by John Couch Adams and Urbain Le Verrier, giving some detail of the models formed and simplifications used to arrive at a result. Both independently predicted limits for the position of this extra-Uranian planet and Chris gave an account of several searches that were undertaken. The first of these to succeed in observing the new planet and recognising it as such was Johann Galle. Chris spoke about a row that erupted over the discovery but in the end tempers cooled and the new planet was named Neptune.

Chris also briefly outlined the example of Vulcan, the theorised planet between Mercury and the Sun that was causing a discrepancy in Mercury's orbit. In fact, this was found to be a limitation of Newton's theory; the discrepancy eventually being accounted for by Einstein's general relativity in 1915.

The recent Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded for the observations that the rate at which the universe is expanding is accelerating, a discrepancy from theory that led to the theory of dark energy and dark matter. Chris left us with the food for thought: is dark energy a Neptune situation (something out there we can't yet see) or a Vulcan situation (a limitation of current theory)?

Overall this was a highly enjoyable talk presented to a large audience, including a sizable contingent of sixth form students. I hope this brief account, skipping much of the detail, has given some flavour of the experience.

The next East Midlands Branch talk is From Sylvia Plath to Bad Sex: uses of mathematics in fiction by Tony Mann (University of Greenwich/British Society for the History of Mathematics) on 15th November 2011 at the University of Leicester.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Market Research

The ECMG Committee have had an idea to hold a Skills Workshop in addition to the biannual ECM Conferences as members have previously indicated that they either like the skills workshops or they enjoy the conference part most and we thought that we might be able to get more attendees at both events in future if they were kept separate.

This proposal has yet to go to the Executive Board, at this stage we are trying to do some market research to see whether the membership like our idea or not and to gauge whether or not it would be feasible.

Our initial thoughts were that if we held one workshop a year in London, possibly on a Wednesday (as students don't have so many lectures then) and possibly on the day prior to the Mathematics 20XX conference then the two events might benefit from each others' success.

So we would like to have some feedback. Particularly from people who have attended our events in the past, but also from people who may consider attending our events in future.

We'd like to know if you like the conferences as they are with the occasional morning skills workshop and the afternoon or if you would prefer the two types of event to be separate and whether or not you would attend the skills workshops (and/or the conferences) in future.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Mathematics and the Cutty Sark - London Branch Meeting

On Thursday 13th October the London Branch of the IMA had their first public meeting. This was hosted by the University of Greenwich with Professor Chris Bailey (Greenwich) speaking on the Mathematics behind the Saving of the Cutty Sark.

The talk began with a brief introduction to the ship, why it needed restoration and a glimpse of what it will look like next year - just in time for the Olympics!

Chris gave a fascinating insight into the work that his team and others had done on the conservation and preservation of the ship and the simulation models that had been designed. These mathematical models needed to analyse the stresses and strains incurred when taking the ship apart and putting it back together without causing any damage. Because no one was allowed to touch the ship before the work started, a scaled down physical model also had to be built to test results of the mathematical model. Ultrasound scans were used to see where the ship was suffering from decay and corrosion.

These modelling techniques, although common-place when designing new products, have not been widely used in the conservation of old structures. As well as the focus on restoration it was also necessary to preserve the life of the ship for future generations. Again this is established practice in the design of new equipment but much harder on something that is already very old with an unknown history.

The talk sparked a lot of interest in the audience and generated some thought provoking questions.

After the talk there was a short discussion about the future of the London Branch and the variety and timings of meetings that could be held. Further discussions concerning this continued in the Trafalgar pub.

If you were unable to come to the meeting but would like to get involved in the London Branch please email Noel-Ann Bradshaw (n.bradshaw@gre.ac.uk) who will pass your details on to those concerned.

Friday, 7 October 2011

6 months, how long is that?

I got thinking about the question in the title of this blog through an activity that I do on a weekend...

Outside of work, one of the things I do is to volunteer to help manage a weekly running event. This is a 5km timed run, which is free to enter and happens every Saturday morning across parks all over the country. It serves many purposes, one of the main ones being to encourage people to take some regular exercise, no matter what their level of fitness is. Although there are 'fast' runners there are many more 'not-so-fast' runners and, as such, the events are very sociable affairs.

As more of these parkruns begin and become established it is always the case that anniversaries for each particular course are celebrated. These are normally the 1 year, 2 year anniversary or the like. Our first event was on 16th April, so does that mean we would have a 6 month anniversary on the 16th October?

Overlooking that the 16th October is a Sunday, and the events only run on a Saturday, the fact that the events are weekly means that the 8th October is the 26th event, which, given there are 52(.143, or .286 in a leap year) weeks in a year, does this date not warrant the 6 month anniversary?

This 26 week idea does seem to make more sense in the context of the situation, yet it wouldn't necessarily in another situation...As it  happens I got married on the 17th April and I certainly wouldn't contemplate saying to the wife that we could have a little 6 month celebration on the 9th October...that would just be silly, wouldn't it?!?