July 01, 2004 - July 26, 2004
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July 26, 2004

Kerala News - A great mathematician dies unnoticed in Kerala:

George Padamadan, the well-known mathematician, died virtually unsung in Kerala because he had no posts, degrees or someone to promote him.
A crestfallen Oman-based Abdul Gafoor, who was at Padamadan's funeral Monday, told IANS he was sad because he always wanted to meet the genius, but could not.
"I am extremely sad that all I saw was his body today. It is a matter of shame to Kerala that he was never recognised just because he did not have a degree in Maths," Gafoor said.
Padamadan died Saturday.
The world community took notice of Padamadan in 1993 when his paper titled "An Amateur Look on the Fallibilist Epistemology of Mathematics" challenged the findings of world-renowned Hungarian mathematician Lacatose's "Proof and Analysis Theory". Padamadan's logic kept mathematicians spellbound.
However, the genius did not hold any formal degree in Mathematics.
After his schooling in Kerala around the time India got independence, he did his intermediate studies at the Thiruchirapalli St Joseph's College in Tamil Nadu where his passion for mathematics grew.
He was then admitted to the prestigious Madras Loyola College to pursue B.A. in Mathematics.
Along with his passion for maths, Padamadan was fluent in German and was a follower of Marxist ideology. And that brought him the first setback -- he was asked to leave the college for being a Communist.
He then took to teaching students Mathematics and English. But it did not last long.
However, Padamadan's passion for Mathematics saw him get into a research on advanced mathematical logic.
"He was a humanist and never complained about anything except that he had practically no one to interact at his desired level of Mathematics. But he continued to work silently," said one of his students, V.K. Hary, 51, an advocate now and who was also his neighbour.
"I remember there was a small celebration in our village when his paper challenging the Hungarian mathematician was published by the New York-based Rensselaer Research Polytechnic Institute," he reminisced.
He was again in the news when the New York-based institute published two more of his papers in 2002 -- "Creative Dynamism at the Root of the Evolution of Mathematical Sciences" and "Logical Paradoxes and their Formal Resolution".
His works, unfortunately, hardly received any recognition at home.
"Mathematicians outside India -- especially in Europe and the USA -- would certainly grieve the death of this rustic mathematician. But no one at home," lamented Hary.
A great mathematician dies unnoticed in Kerala
July 26 2004

Into the fifth dimension
By Raja Mishra
Nima Arkani-Hamed hasn't seen the fifth dimension. But he's pretty sure it's there, somewhere.
In his spare Harvard office, with its elegant wood desk and floor-to-ceiling blackboard, the long-haired tenured theoretical physicist sucks down espressos at a rapid clip as he ponders the nature of, well, everything.
"The universe," he says, "is much more interesting than we realize."
Questions about the universe come naturally to this son of Iranian-born physicists. As a boy, he puzzled: How long does it take a lake to freeze? Where do rainbows appear? How do stones skip across a lake? But even more enthralling to Arkani-Hamed was that the simple physics equations he learned in school, like force = mass x acceleration, provided the answers.
"You could explain the world around you," he says.
Arkani-Hamed, 32, studied math and physics at the University of Toronto, then received a doctorate in physics at the University of California at Berkeley. By this time, he had moved on from rainbows to the laws of nature.
Four basic forces govern everything. There are the weak and strong forces, which bind together and regulate the movement of subatomic particles, like the protons and neutrons in the nucleus of every atom. There's the electromagnetic force, which regulates everything containing electric charges, making possible all the high-tech gadgetry that drives the world.
And then there's the problem child, good old-fashioned, apple-plunking-down gravity. Physicists believe that, on a fundamental level, the first three forces are essentially the same. But gravity is inexplicably weak. Consider: Even the gravity emanating from the massive moon can barely hold humans to the ground.
However physicists tweak the equations, they can't seem to fit gravity in with the other forces. It's just too weak. This is a problem. The basic quest in physics for the last 50 years has been to unify everything, reduce the universe to its simple essence. But gravity simply hasn't complied.
Arkani-Hamed began pondering this quandary as a Stanford University researcher and continued at Harvard. He stumbled onto the idea of extra dimensions. Imagine a piece of paper floating in space. The space is the fifth dimension. Our world, everything we can perceive, is confined to that paper. But what if there is interaction between the paper and the surrounding space?
Perhaps gravity bleeds into this fifth dimension, Arkani-Hamed theorized, or even more dimensions. But, given our four-dimensional reality, we're able to experience only the gravity left over. In other words, gravity is much stronger than we realize. Perhaps, Arkani-Hamed speculated, at super high energy levels, of an intensity never seen by humans, such as the split second after the Big Bang, gravity is like the other forces, before leaking into the fifth dimension.
Describing this conceptual breakthrough, which he backed mathematically, thus rocking modern physics, Arkani-Hamed says: "At the time, I was just in the mood for thinking about something different." As speculative as his ideas might sound, experimental verification is on the way. In three years, a massive particle accelerator in Switzerland comes on line, giving scientists a means to create super-high energy levels that will enable them to measure nature at the most fundamental scale ever. This should provide evidence confirming -- or refuting -- Arkani-Hamed's theory.
"Until then, the next two years are just a fun period of irresponsibility," he says, laughing.
Into the fifth dimension
July 26, 2004

Korean Chosen as Math Professor in US
By Chung Ah-young
A young Korean scholar, who was educated only in Korea, has recently become an assistant professor of mathematics at a prestigious university in the United States for the first time in the field of mathematics.
Lee Sang-hyuk, 33, a graduate from Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) will give lectures and conduct research as an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for a three-year term from next semester.
Lee cuts a conspicuous figure by obtaining a bachelor's degree, a master's degree and a doctorate degree at POSTECH without studying abroad. He also held a post-doctorate position in Korea even though those holding a professorship in the U.S. normally study for their post-doctorate in the U.S.
The 33-year-old scholar won the faculty position solely on his scholastic achievements of research focusing on mathematics.
POSTECH stressed that he was selected as a ``Van Vleck'' assistant professor, named after a famous mathematician at the University of Wisconsin, and refers to top-ranking professors of mathematics across the U.S.
Given that the Van Vleck position is conferred to only the top 30 out of 1,000 doctorate professors of mathematics every year among universities in the U.S., Korea has good reason to be proud of this young scholar.
He was born in Kyongju, North Kyongsang Province, and graduated from Kyongju High School in 1991. He studied mathematics after switching his major from electronics and electric engineering at POSTECH.
Lee attained a bachelor's degree at POSTECH in 1995 and a master's degree in 1997. He had been a postdoctoral researcher until recently when he gained a doctorate degree in harmonic analysis, one of the traditional branches of mathematics in 2001.
Among a total of 38 doctoral graduates, Lee was the only one to receive the full 4.3 credit points in the history of the mathematics department at the university.
``I will do my best to live up to the expectations of my professors who guided my study for a decade and to become the pride of my university,'' he said.
Korean Chosen as Math Professor in US
July 26, 2004

Mind Over Matter
TAMPASometime in the not-too-distant future, the worlds of people and robots will merge.
Humans already are heading in artificial directions. We have false teeth and hair, plastic limbs, intraocular lenses, mechanical organs and drug- dispensing implants. Robots are becoming more like us in facial expression, voice recognition, and ability to walk, talk and make decisions.
The big question, however, isn't whether people become more techno than flesh, but whether robots develop some form of consciousness - self- aware minds of their own.
Sidney Perkowitz raises this question in ``Digital People: From Bionic Humans to Androids'' (Joseph Henry Press), a book that describes how a new generation of robots could serve as ``the next level of humanity.''
A physicist at Emory University in Atlanta, Perkowitz frames the robotic revolution, which is advancing in leaps and bounds, as a technological notch in our evolution. Materials science, digital microprocessing and artificial intelligence may pave the way to startling innovations by the end of the 21st century. The seeds of these innovations, Perkowitz argues, will grow out of tangible need, not science fiction.
Perkowitz defines intelligent robots as machines that react and adapt to their environment. Although the robots of today can walk, talk and interact, they are a long way from becoming self-aware. Creating one, if possible, may depend on how we define our own awareness, argued Marvin Minsky in his 1986 book ``The Society of Mind.''
``Most people still believe that no machine could ever be conscious, or feel ambition, jealousy, humor or have any other mental life experience,'' Minsky writes. ``We are still far from being able to create machines that do all the things people do. But this only means that we need better theories about how thinking works.''
Mind Over Matter
July 26, 2004

Miracle on Probability Street
The Law of Large Numbers guarantees that one-in-a-million miracles happen 295 times a day in America
By Michael Shermer
Because I am often introduced as a "professional skeptic," people feel compelled to challenge me with stories about highly improbable events. The implication is that if I cannot offer a satisfactory natural explanation for that particular event, the general principle of supernaturalism is preserved. A common story is the one about having a dream or thought about the death of a friend or relative and then receiving a phone call five minutes later about the unexpected death of that very person.
I cannot always explain such specific incidents, but a principle of probability called the Law of Large Numbers shows that an event with a low probability of occurrence in a small number of trials has a high probability of occurrence in a large number of trials. Events with million-to-one odds happen 295 times a day in America.
In their delightful book Debunked! (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004), CERN physicist Georges Charpak and University of Nice physicist Henri Broch show how the application of probability theory to such events is enlightening. In the case of death premonitions, suppose that you know of 10 people a year who die and that you think about each of those people once a year. One year contains 105,120 five-minute intervals during which you might think about each of the 10 people, a probability of one out of 10,512--certainly an improbable event. Yet there are 295 million Americans. Assume, for the sake of our calculation, that they think like you. That makes 1/10,512 X 295,000,000 = 28,063 people a year, or 77 people a day for whom this improbable premonition becomes probable. With the well-known cognitive phenomenon of confirmation bias firmly in force (where we notice the hits and ignore the misses in support of our favorite beliefs), if just a couple of these people recount their miraculous tales in a public forum (next on Oprah!), the paranormal seems vindicated. In fact, they are merely demonstrating the laws of probability writ large.
Another form of this principle was suggested by physicist Freeman Dyson of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J. In a review of Debunked! (New York Review of Books, March 25), he invoked "Littlewood's Law of Miracles" (John Littlewood was a University of Cambridge mathematician): "In the course of any normal person's life, miracles happen at a rate of roughly one per month." Dyson explains that "during the time that we are awake and actively engaged in living our lives, roughly for eight hours each day, we see and hear things happening at a rate of about one per second. So the total number of events that happen to us is about thirty thousand per day, or about a million per month. With few exceptions, these events are not miracles because they are insignificant. The chance of a miracle is about one per million events. Therefore we should expect about one miracle to happen, on the average, every month."
Despite this cogent explanation, Dyson concludes with a "tenable" hypothesis that "paranormal phenomena may really exist," because, he says, "I am not a reductionist." Further, Dyson attests, "that paranormal phenomena are real but lie outside the limits of science is supported by a great mass of evidence." That evidence is entirely anecdotal, he admits. But because his grandmother was a faith healer and his cousin was a former editor of the Journal for Psychical Research and because anecdotes gathered by the Society for Psychical Research and other organizations suggest that under certain conditions (for example, stress) some people sometimes exhibit paranormal powers (unless experimental controls are employed, at which point the powers disappear), Dyson finds it "plausible that a world of mental phenomena should exist, too fluid and evanescent to be grasped with the cumbersome tools of science."
Freeman Dyson is one of the great minds of our time, and I admire him immensely. But even genius of this magnitude cannot override the cognitive biases that favor anecdotal thinking. The only way to find out if anecdotes represent real phenomena is controlled tests. Either people can read other people's minds (or ESP cards), or they can't. Science has unequivocally demonstrated that they can't--QED. And being a holist instead of a reductionist, being related to psychics, or reading about weird things that befall people does not change this fact.
Miracle on Probability Street
July 26, 2004

Questions That Plague Physics: A Conversation with Lawrence M. Krauss
Chair of the physics department at Case Western Reserve University, Lawrence M. Krauss is famed in the research community for his prescient suggestion that a still mysterious entity called dark energy might be the key to understanding the beginnings of the universe. He is also an outspoken social critic and in February was among 60 prominent scientists who signed a letter entitled "Restoring Scientific Integrity in Policymaking," complaining of the Bush administration's misuse of science. The public, though, might know him best as an op-ed writer and author of books with mass appeal. His 1995 work, The Physics of Star Trek, became a best-seller, translated into 15 languages. He is now finishing his seventh popular title, Hiding in the Mirror: The Mysterious Allure of Extra Dimensions, which he describes as "an exploration of our long-standing literary, artistic and scientific love affair with the idea that there are hidden universes out there." Krauss recently discussed his many scientific and social passions with writer Claudia Dreifus.
SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN: What are the top questions bedeviling physicists today?
LAWRENCE KRAUSS: Three that I find fascinating are: What is the nature of dark energy? How can we reconcile black hole evaporation with quantum mechanics? And, finally, do extra dimensions exist? They are all connected. And they are all going to require some new insights into quantum gravity. But someone is going to have to come up with a totally new and remarkable idea. And it's hard to predict when that is going to happen. In 1904 you couldn't have predicted that Albert Einstein would come up with a remarkable idea in 1905. I think the resolution to these problems is likely to be theoretical and not experimental. This is because direct experimental signatures that might point us in the right theoretical directions in these areas probably lie beyond the realm of current experiments. I'd also bet that the solution to these problems is not going to resemble anything being done now, including string theory.
SA: Is string theory the physics equivalent of The God That Failed, as some people used to say about communist ideology?
LK: Not exactly. But I do think its time may be past. String theory and the other modish physical theory, loop quantum gravity, both stem from one basic idea: that there's a mathematical problem with general relativity.
The idea is that when you try to examine physical phenomena on ever smaller scales, gravity acts worse and worse. Eventually, you get infinities. And almost all research to find a quantum theory of gravity is trying to understand these infinities. What string theory and what loop quantum gravity do is go around this by not going smaller than a certain distance scale, because if you do, things will behave differently. Both these theories are based on the idea that you can't go down to zero in a point particle, and that's one way to get rid of mathematical infinities. The main difference, I think, between the two theories is that string is intellectually and mathematically far richer.
String theory hasn't accomplished a lot in terms of solving physical problems, but it's produced a lot of interesting mathematical discoveries. That's why it fascinates. Loop quantum gravity hasn't even done that, at least in my mind.
Questions That Plague Physics: A Conversation with Lawrence M. Krauss
July 26, 2004

Hawking Cries Uncle
For days the scientific grapevine had been buzzing with the news that Stephen Hawking, the brilliant physicist whose disease has put him in a wheelchair, heir to the revered Cambridge professorship once held by Isaac Newton, would be making a big announcement at a conference in Dublin, Ireland. Sure enough, last week before an array of TV cameras and hundreds of colleagues at the ordinarily obscure International Conference of General Relativity and Gravitation, Hawking declared that he had solved what he called "a major problem in theoretical physics." Black holes, he said, do not forever annihilate all traces of what falls into them.
In making that announcement, Hawking recanted a position he had held for nearly 30 years. He also pulled the rug out from under a generation of science-fiction fans, declaring dead a favorite plot device. "There is no possibility of using black holes to travel to other universes," he said, with evident regret. And, finally, he conceded defeat in a long-standing bet with Caltech astrophysicist John Preskill, who thought there wasn't a problem in the first place.
Hawking Cries Uncle
July 26, 2004

Bob Welch: Baseball book is fan's odds on favorite

By Bob Welch
In the bottom of the ninth of his math-teaching career, University of Oregon professor Ken Ross - a smallish man with big ideas - came to the plate and swung for the fences: In 2000, he taught a freshman seminar class called "Statistics & Mathematics of Baseball."
It was the final class of his 35-year stint at the UO.
Now, the 68-year-old Ross is going extra innings - but forget a measly class. His 190-page hardcover book, "Mathematician at the Ball Park: Odds and Probabilities for Baseball Fans" (Pi Press, $19.95), has hit the bookshelves, and he has a 45-minute book signing at 6:15 p.m. Wednesday at Borders, preceding the monthly meeting of the local Baseball Book Club.
Only one way seemed appropriate to interview The Mathematician, I figured. And so there we sat Monday night at Civic Stadium, watching the Eugene Emeralds face the tie-dye-clad Everett AquaSox on one of those perfect summer nights.
For nine innings, I pestered Ross about everything from the odds of three bats being broken in the same game ("small") to how many people in the crowd of 2,402 probably knew the evening's trivia question: What major league team were the Ems first affiliated with? (He figured 50, though I think that was high. Answer: San Francisco Giants.)
"Baseball fans love numbers," author Pat Conroy once wrote. "They love to swirl them around in their mouths like Bordeaux wine." And swirl we did.
"Baseball is the perfect blend when it comes to numbers," Ross says. "It's simple enough to analyze mathematically, but complicated enough to be challenging."
The book is a blend of baseball and the kind of equations that bring to mind that scene in "Goodwill Hunting" where an entire MIT chalkboard gets crammed with numbers. (This may just be my math-impaired inner child getting loose.)
"Nothing in the book goes as far as what I'd teach in a freshman statistics class," says Ross.
Maybe so, but "Mathematician" is no underhand lob for the average reader at the plate. It's a blend of baseball and numbers that'll appeal most to those who see the world with square-rooted glasses, the person who doesn't just watch the three kids try to throw the tennis ball through the target hole in the Prince Puckler's between-innings promotion, but calculates the odds of all three making it.
"Did you see what happened?" says Ross, straying from math to the deep abyss of psychology. "The first kid missed high and so the second, perhaps compensating, missed low." (I was thinking about how good an ice cream would taste.)
Among Ross' theories forwarded in the book:
Batting averages are overrated as a measure of best hitters. "On-base percentage and slugging percentage are more important."
Hitting streaks are not necessarily signs of a player suddenly getting better or worse. "Robots would have streaks," Ross says. Even in random coin flips, it's not out of the question to get five or six "heads" in a row. So when Alex Rodriguez, with a lifetime batting average of .309, hit .298 in 2003, that wasn't a slump, Ross says. "Just a little bit of random bad luck."
Given a random 50-year-old American male (like me), "there is a probability that he will die of lung cancer."
On a sweet summer night at Civic, of course, I didn't want to ponder such things, so I asked Ross, instead, what the odds were that, down 7-3 going into the bottom of the ninth, the Ems would win.
He figured 7:1 against their winning and lowered that to 19:1 when the first Ems player went out. They lost, the long odds obviously proving correct. But what makes sports - and life - so fascinating is the opposite: the odds-defying stuff.
What, for example, was the probability that Ross could write - and find a New York publisher to publish - a book on math and baseball? Therein lies the best part of probability: not the proving of, but the defiance of, what, statistically, should happen.
As I bid farewell to The Mathematician after the game, he was living, walking proof that probability doesn't always bat last.
Bob Welch: Baseball book is fan's odds on favorite
July 25, 2004

Epic quest for Einstein Junior

Roger Penrose
I asked an industry insider if he could explain this feeding frenzy among publishers of popular science books. "They don't understand what they're publishing," was the wry response. In the case of The Road To Reality, that is hardly surprising - but at least Penrose is a safe bet, since he truly is one of the world's leading mathematical physicists.
In the 1960s, he and Hawking proved that the 'singularity' of the Big Bang - when all space and matter were somehow shrunk to a point - was an unavoidable feature of general relativity. The only way round the problem was to ditch Einstein, hence physicists (Penrose included) have spent the following decades hunting for a theory of 'quantum gravity' that will make better sense of the universe's origin. That great quest is the real subject of Penrose's book - but before we get to the nitty gritty there are an awful lot of preliminaries to get out of the way.
Most popular guides start with a gentle introduction to mind-bending ideas like curved space and quantum waves, before gradually upping the learning curve to a point where non-specialist readers either fall off completely or else are lulled into uncomprehending acceptance.
There is no such pussy-footing for Penrose. By chapter two he is proving Pythagoras' theorem from first principles and introducing non-Euclidean geometry. His initial approach, though, is seductive. An Escher woodcut graphically shows what life might be like in 'hyperbolic space', where objects change size and shape when moved around.
Linking art and science in this way is a great idea, but alas it is a rare foray. The next 300 or so pages are given over almost entirely to pure maths, making one wonder who exactly this book is aimed at. Penrose says he would like it to be accessible to people who struggled with fractions at school (in other words everyone). But I find it hard to square this with his subsequent exposition of quaternions, hyperfunctions and tensors, in which he neglects to define basic terms such as 'natural logarithm' for the benefit of any bewildered math-phobes still in the audience.
Another 300 pages do much the same for physics, making this book ideal for anyone needing to do last-minute revision for a degree exam. After that, if you can last the course, we hit the really interesting part, when Penrose airs some of his own theories and takes issue with those of his contemporaries.
All of this might sound like a less than ringing endorsement, but Penrose's work is genuinely magnificent, and the most stimulating book I have read in a long time.
Epic quest for Einstein Junior
July 25, 2004

Now, Robots that exhibit social skills!

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed robots that exhibit social skills and are capable of interacting with people.
The robots will showcase their skills in the American Association for Artificial Intelligence (AAAI)'s Open interaction Task, in which they will escort guests to a conference venue.
The robots are equipped to interact with people, answer their queries and escort them to various locations.
"We're pushing for a sustained presence by the robots so people can interact with them at their leisure," project coordinator Reid Simmons, research professor in Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute, was quoted as saying.
At future conferences, Simmons says the team will continue to focus on human-robot interaction, with hopes of developing reliable speech recognition and creating robots that would fill the role of volunteer workers at the conference. (ANI)
Now, Robots that exhibit social skills!
July 24, 2004

Scotty may soon be able to beam us up
Physicists are working at the far reaches of theoretical science but even their most difficult and abstract ideas can have practical applications, as SIMON COLLINS reports
Otago University physicist Dr Murray Barrett and a team of American scientists have just "teleported" the state of an atom from one place to another - only about 0.3mm away, but the principle has been established.
And Dr Matt Visser, a Victoria University mathematician who has written a book on space-time "wormholes", says the logic of Einstein's general relativity is "completely infested with time machines".
Visser, who grew up in Lower Hutt, the son of a factory foreman, and then spent 24 years researching abstruse physics in the United States, admits that no one has found a wormhole yet. But nor has anyone found any proof that they do not exist.
The idea, he says, originated with Professor Kip Thorne, a Californian physicist who was asked by science fiction writer Carl Sagan in the 1980s for a scientifically feasible way to get a character from one side of the galaxy to the other.
"We thought we'd be able to knock these things down and prove it couldn't be done," says Visser. "But the answer is much more ambiguous: well, it's going to be difficult [to find or create a wormhole], but it's by no means clear that it's impossible.
"My attitude is always that it would be great if these things exist, and even if they don't, the process of proving that they don't will tell us something about how the theory breaks down and give us a better handle on a modified theory for general relativity or quantum physics theory or whatever."
Scotty may soon be able to beam us up
July 24, 2004

Math Olympiad in Athens

Ivars Peterson
The Olympic games in ancient Greece were part of a major religious festival honoring the god Zeus. Every 4 years, men from every corner of the Greek world gathered for several days of celebrations, athletic contests, and ceremonies. The term olympiad refers to the 4-year interval between Olympic games by which time was reckoned in ancient Greece. Inevitably, the games attracted vendors, traders, sculptors, poets, writers, and others—all presenting varied wares to sell to or entertain the many spectators.
The Olympic games were not the only athletic contests in ancient Greece. The Pythian games took place at Delphi every 4 years, 2 years after the Olympic games. These games had started off as music contests in honor of the god Apollo, but by 582 B.C., they also included athletic events. The festivities lasted 6 to 8 days and featured various cultural activities. Musicians and actors competed to be the best in playing the flute, singing, or reciting tragedy.
In that spirit, modern-day Olympic Games have included a variety of cultural events. This year, as Athens prepared for the latest edition of the Olympic Games, the Hellenic Mathematical Society hosted the 45th International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO), July 6–18.
Held annually since 1959, the IMO brings together teams of high school students from around the world to compete in solving extremely challenging math problems. This year's competition in Athens featured six-student teams from 85 countries.
Over the course of 2 days, the competing students had 9 hours to solve six problems.
In the final team standings, China took first place, followed by the United States and Russia. It was the best U.S. showing since 1994.
Math Olympiad in Athens
July 23, 2004

Chaos, Twist Maps and Big Business
University of Bristol
Newswise — Obscure mathematical ideas developed back in the 1980s could solve current problems of mixing fluids at the microscale, and revolutionise the technology, reports an article in Science this week (23 July 2004).
The need to mix fluids at the microscale affects a whole range of developing technologies – from inkjet printers to DNA analysis – and finding ways to do it is becoming big business. Millions of dollars have already been poured into 'lab-on-a-chip' projects, but making miniature labs is not just a question of scaling things down.
When you pour cream into your coffee via the back of a spoon, it forms a delicious layer on the top, through which you sip your coffee. Should you want to mix the layers together, however, you simply pick up the spoon and stir, creating turbulence in the fluids that causes them to mix.
But it's a different story when the amount of fluids you are trying to mix is very, very small. Tiny volumes behave in strange ways and getting them to mix is extremely difficult. This is where a powerful mathematical idea that involves chaos theory – 'chaotic mixing' – becomes useful, since it provides a key mechanism for mixing at such small scales.
Professor Steve Wiggins, a mathematician at Bristol University, UK, and his colleague Professor Julio Ottino, a chemical engineer at Northwestern University, USA, pioneered ideas of chaotic mixing back in the 1980s. Recently they stumbled on even earlier, highly abstract, ideas – the exotically named 'linked twist maps'. These, they suddenly realised, could be applied to the problems of mixing tiny volumes.
A common design for many micromixers currently in use is a construction that has several segments, each with different geometrical characteristics. Twist maps describe the swirling motion particles undergo as they move down the length of one segment, while 'linked twist maps' describe particle motion through multiple segments. As a result of their structure, Wiggins and Ottino found that linked twist maps can be designed to give exceptional mixing properties at the microscale.
This discovery has provided Wiggins and Ottino with a new method for the design of micromixers, and the potential to revolutionise the technology.
Chaos, Twist Maps and Big Business
July 23, 2004

Interactive Social Robots to Participate in AAAI's Annual Mobile Robot Challenge
PITTSBURGH, July 23 (AScribe Newswire) -- Grace and George, a pair of socially skilled robots developed by a team of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University, the Naval Research Laboratory and Swarthmore College, will participate in the American Association for Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) annual Mobile Robot Competition and Exhibition July 27-29, at the San Jose Convention Center in San Jose, Calif.
Grace and George are six-foot-tall, socially adept, autonomous talking robots with digitally animated faces. The robots will work as a team to complete AAAI's Open Interaction Task, which involves interacting with conference attendees in an unstructured environment.
Grace will "work" at a booth, communicating information about the conference and schedule, while George circulates among the crowd, interacting with people, answering their questions and escorting them to conference locations. Grace will contact George and schedule times for "him" to meet and escort people to various locations. Those being escorted will put on a specially colored hat, and George will lead them to their destinations.
Though the robots have participated in AAAI's challenge since 2002, their role in this year's conference poses a new challenge.
"Having George and Grace operating throughout the conference ? not just for an hour, but working throughout the duration ? is more of a challenge," said project coordinator Reid Simmons, research professor in Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute. "We're pushing for a sustained presence by the robots so people can interact with them at their leisure."
He added that the group chose to participate in Open Interaction Task instead of the Robot challenge because they wanted to showcase the human-robot interaction focus of the Grace and George project.
Grace competed in AAAI's Robot Challenge in 2002 where she acted as a conference attendee. She managed to find her way to the registration booth at the Edmonton Convention Center, Alberta, Canada, register for the conference, navigate to an elevator, and find the third-floor conference room where she gave a PowerPoint presentation about herself.
At future conferences, Simmons says the team will continue to focus on human-robot interaction, with hopes of developing reliable speech recognition and creating robots that would fill the role of volunteer workers at the conference.
For more information on Grace and George, see
For more information on AAAI and the Robot Challenge, see
Interactive Social Robots to Participate in AAAI's Annual Mobile Robot Challenge
July 23, 2004

Derek Taunt
Derek Taunt, who died on July 15 aged 86, pursued an academic career at Cambridge, becoming Bursar of Jesus College, after wartime work as a codebreaker at Bletchley Park.
A mathematician, Taunt was recruited in August 1941, shortly after the German invasion of Russia, and assigned to Hut 6, whose main purpose was to provide the translators and analysts in Hut 3 with intelligence, in the form of decrypts of Enigma ciphers.
For the first year he worked in Control section, maintaining contact between Hut 6 and the stations around Britain which intercepted Enigma traffic. He then transferred to the more glamorous environment of The Watch, the heart of the Hut 6 codebreaking operation, then led by Stuart Milner-Barry. This consisted of classicists, mathematicians, chess players, historians, modern linguists and actresses - as well as service personnel.
The role of The Watch was to find, by linguistic and mathematical probability analysis of Enigma messages, the "crib" used by the German Enigma machine operators to decode encrypted messages. This was changed each day and Taunt recalled that the Germans constantly sought ways of introducing complications, such as including nonsense words at the beginning of messages or changing the Enigma machine wheel orders during the day.
Later Taunt moved to Qwatch (a pun on Quatsch, the German for "rubbish"), a close-knit group of three codebreakers, the others being Bob Roseveare and Ione Jay, to cope with less urgent but nonetheless important problems. These included deciphering the code used by "some rather sinister scientists at Peenemunde on the Baltic coast whose interest in heavy water and rocketry emphasised the need for the Allies to get their retaliation in first for the V3 weapon".
Derek Taunt was born on November 16 1917 and educated at Enfield Grammar, then City of London School, and at Jesus College, Cambridge, where he read Mathematics. He was accepted by Professor G H Hardy, whose lectures on analysis he had enjoyed, as a research student, but the project was postponed by the outbreak of war.
He was sent to work in the Ordnance Board at Kemnal Manor, Chislehurst, analysing trial firings of new guns and ammunition, before moving to Bletchley Park in 1941. After V E Day Hut 6 disbanded and Taunt spent the months until V J Day at the Admiralty Research Laboratory at Teddington, working on supersonic aerodynamics.
By the time he returned to Cambridge as a research student, Hardy had retired, so he abandoned mathematical analysis for abstract algebra and was accepted as a research student by Philip Hall. A Fellow of Jesus, Taunt became director of studies in Mathematics, tutor, then Bursar of Jesus from 1964 to 1979. He was President of Jesus from 1979 to 1982 and Cayley Lecturer in Mathematics from 1954 to 1982.
Taunt's time as bursar coincided with significant redevelopments of parts of Cambridge, including the controversial Grafton Centre development in the "Kite", a picturesque, though run-down, area of small terraced houses north of Parker's Piece, where Jesus had sizeable landholdings. He was instrumental in stopping plans to build the centre on New Square and also successfully opposed a scheme to build an inner relief road across Jesus Green and Jesus Close.
Derek Taunt
July 23, 2004

Now it adds up: phi is the magic number
IT IS "the most irrational of all irrational numbers", in the words of astronomer and physicist Mario Livio, yet the number phi pervades science, art, architecture and the natural world. It is everywhere, from the proportions of Salvador Dali's Last Supper to the star-filled whorls of spiral nebulae, from the arrangement of leaves on a plant to the physics governing the unimaginable forces of black holes. To the ancients the "divine proportion", to others "the golden ratio", phi was first identified thousands of years ago, but continues to instil surprise and awe at its sheer universality.
Livio, a senior astronomer and former head of science at the Space Telescope Institute in Baltimore, USA, is the author of The Golden Ratio, a best-selling book about this mathematical thread that runs through the universe. Next week he will talk about "the world's most astonishing number" at the Glasgow Science Centre.
Not to be confused with pi, the mysterious phi is the number 1.618 followed by an infinite string of non-repeating decimals. It was established by Euclid by dividing a line into two parts so that the ratio of the larger part to the smaller is equal to the ratio of the whole line to the larger part, but it also encapsulates the kind of logarithmic spirals we see in certain mollusc shells and in the disposition of plant leaves and petals. It is a key pattern, it seems, in living organisms.
"Phi has inspired thinkers of all disciplines like no other number in the history of mathematics," said Livio. "It was formally defined by Euclid around 300BC, but was probably known to some Pythagoreans maybe as much as a couple of hundred years earlier. So it appears first of all in mathematics, but it has this propensity for cropping up everywhere, often where you least expect it. We find it in a variety of natural phenomena, and artists such as Dali used it, although it is less clear in music. There have been claims that it has been used by both Bartok and Debussy: personally, I find the arguments about Bartok somewhat less compelling, but Debussy more convincing."

Now it adds up: phi is the magic number
July 23, 2004

Physics Enters the Twilight Zone
Charles Seife
As is your habit, you are reading Science at breakfast (today's treat: an omelet made with dodo eggs). But as soon as you finish this paragraph, a carnivorous wombat crashes through the door into your apartment and chomps angrily on your prehensile tail. Right ... now.
Ridiculous? Certainly--here. But it's true somewhere in the universe, according to many scientists. An increasing number of mainstream physicists have espoused an almost unspeakably bizarre picture of the cosmos, one filled with mirror worlds and parallel universes, with doppelgängers and alternate histories. In many of these parallel universes--countless ones--an exact duplicate of you is doing exactly what you're doing: reading this article in Science magazine. In others, you exist with subtle (and not-so- subtle) changes from your present-day life--you sport horns or speak in Latin or make a living by juggling hedgehogs at cocktail parties.
This picture of parallel universes may seem like science fiction or a cosmologist's playful mind game. But multiple, independent lines of argument support it. Even among skeptics, most experts tend to accept two basic and uncontroversial premises about the nature of the universe--premises that, followed to their logical conclusion, imply the existence of infinite mirror worlds and infinite identical copies of you inhabiting many of those worlds. And there are other theoretical reasons to believe in parallel universes as well.
Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity describes spacetime--the fabric of the cosmos--in the mathematical language that geometers use to describe a curved surface. In the simplest scenario, there are only three possible kinds of surface that spacetime could be: curved like a giant ball, warped like an enormous saddle, or slate flat.
The cosmic microwave background all but eliminated the first two possibilities. Both the ball-shaped and saddle-shaped geometries distort the apparent sizes of distant objects. Because the ripples in the cosmic microwave background, which come from a surface billions of light-years away, showed no such distortion, the universe appeared to be flat (Science, 28 April 2000, p. 595). Other data, such as those from distant supernovae and from galaxy clusters, also support the idea.
A flat universe is an infinite universe. Unlike a ball-shaped universe, which is "closed" and has a finite volume, a flat universe goes on forever unless some sort of exotic warping happens billions and billions of light-years away. Scientists are looking for signs of such weird geometries. Apart from a few quirks, however, all the evidence so far points toward infinity.
Physics Enters the Twilight Zone
July 22, 2004

Eminent physicist to give annual lecture
Few people are prepared or disposed to become a licensed quantum mechanic, Frank Wilczek believes, but many more people may be attracted to a real vision of quantum theory, which he regards as the most important scientific advance of the 20th century.
"Certainly any aspiring philosopher (lover of insight) or theologian (interpreter of ultimate reality), or anyone who wants to imagine the technology and economy of the no-so-distant future, must become so initiated," Wilczek wrote in a review in Nature magazine.
It is a task he has embraced and about which he will give his most current assessment when he delivers the 34th annual J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Lecture on Monday.
"I don't think the general culture outside or even within physics has come to terms with quantum theory, a much more revolutionary theory than relativity," he said from Boston in a telephone conversation Tuesday.
Among the world's leading theoretical physicists, Wilczek, the Herman Feshbach professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will present "The World's Numerical Recipe," his description of a centuries-long quest to explain the world around us in the simplest possible terms.
"It's the idea that the world is based to a remarkable extent on just a few numbers," he said. "The ideal is to explain a lot in terms of a little. The more you can explain, the better you have done."
In the review of a popular book on quantum theory, Wilczek wrote, "Coming to terms with quantum theory requires not just quantitative thought, but the systematic replacement of unreliable intuition, derived from everyday experience, by mathematical abstraction; not just strict logic, but expanded concepts of meaning and uncertainty; not just familiarity with some basic facts, but imaginative reconciliation of apparent contradictions.
"Because of these difficulties, the quantum revolution has not yet had the deep impact on literary and ultimately, common culture that is power and novelty merit."
For the mentally timid, Wilczek offers a refreshing clarity and directness of communication.
His award for the 2003 Julius Edgar Lilienfeld Prize, among many outstanding honors in the field, mentions both his major scientific accomplishments and his special facility:
"For his role in the development of asymptotic freedom and other aspects of quantum chromodynamics, a cornerstone of the standard model; for his remarkable versatility in research in condensed matter and astrophysics as well as particle physics; and for his outstanding ability to lecture and write with clarity, profundity, and enthusiasm."
Wilczek traces the quest for numerical simplicity back to 600 B.C. when Pythagoras recognized that harmonics in music were related to simple mathematical ratios and felt this revealed insights into the structure of the world.
The new approach of quantum physics developed early in the 20th century provided a mathematical framework for describing matter as patterns of vibration, harkening back to the musical resonances that enthralled Pythagoras.
The difference between the atoms nature creates and the musical instruments people make is that "[nature's] designs depend not on craftsmanship refined by experience, but rather on the ruthlessly precise application of simple rules," Wilczek wrote in a magazine article in 2002.
It is the application of those simple rules that leads to the world's numerical recipe. In his talk Wilczek will describe the ingredients and give the recipe.
"Given five pure numbers ... one can account for all the phenomena of chemistry, and the structure of ordinary matter," he wrote in Nature in January 2000. "Add a couple more ... and essentially all of astrophysics and most of cosmology enter the charmed circle of understanding. Small parts of this great scientific success story have been told, but it has yet to find its Milton."
Wilczek began adding significant fundamental insights to the quest to understand the properties and interactions of matter while still a graduate student in the early 1970s.
Before he moved to MIT in the fall of 2000, he was, auspiciously, the J.R. Oppenheimer professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.
Wilczek's lecture is sponsored by the J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Committee, a non-profit philanthropic organization that contributes to the Northern New Mexico community by sponsoring the annual lecture, funding and awarding scholarships to graduating high school seniors in Los Alamos, Pojoaque and Santa Fe, and conducting other activities.
The Oppenheimer Lecture series began in 1972 and is one of the cultural highpoints in the intellectual life of the community.
Eminent physicist to give annual lecture
July 22, 2004

Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro et AMD développent une solution informatique révolutionnaire pour les simulations aérodynamiques
AMD (NYSE:AMD) today announced that Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro, theFormula One racing team, has implemented a server cluster based on theAMD Opteron(TM) processor with Direct Connect Architecture in order toadvance its essential aerodynamic research and development. Theservers based on the AMD Opteron processor represent thehighest-performing computing solution ever employed by ScuderiaFerrari Marlboro. Jointly developed with AMD, this solution is thelatest in a technology partnership that has spanned three seasons ofFormula One racing.
Installed at Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro headquarters in Maranello,Italy, the race team's latest AMD Opteron solution is comprised ofseveral hundred computing nodes running on the Linux operating system. Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro selected the AMD Opteron processor particularly to help advance Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD)calculations, which is a critical factor complementing aerodynamicstesting.
Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro et AMD développent une solution informatique révolutionnaire pour les simulations aérodynamiques
July 21, 2004

Hawking reveals new theory in Dublin

Famed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking today revealed his new theory that black holes, the mysterious massive vortexes formed from collapsed stars, do not destroy everything they consume but instead eventually fire out matter and energy "in a mangled form".
Hawking's radical new thinking was presented in a paper to the 17th International Conference on General Relativity and Gravitation in Dublin (see URL below).
Previously, Hawking, 62, had held out the possibility that disappearing matter travels through the black hole to a new parallel universe – the very stuff of most visionary science fiction.
"There is no baby universe branching off, as I once thought. The information remains firmly in our universe," Hawking said in a copy of his speech distributed just before he appeared at the conference.
"I'm sorry to disappoint science fiction fans, but if information is preserved, there is no possibility of using black holes to travel to other universes," he said.
"If you jump into a black hole, your mass energy will be returned to our universe, but in a mangled form, which contains the information about what you were like, but in an unrecognisable state."
Hawking, a mathematics professor at Cambridge University, shot to international fame with his best-selling book A Brief History of Time, which sought to explain to a general audience the most complex aspects of how the universe works.
Despite being virtually paralysed and wheelchair-bound with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis since his mid-20s, Hawking travels the world on speaking engagements.
He communicates by using a hand-held device to select words on his wheelchair's computer screen, then sending them to a speech synthesiser.
RELATED URLS:- » International Conference on General Relativity and Gravitation
Hawking reveals new theory in Dublin
July 21, 2004

Primer on elliptical curve cryptography

This primer provides a gentle yet thorough introduction to elliptical key cryptography (ECC), said to be ideal for resource-constrained embedded systems because it provides more "security per bit" than other types of asymmetric cryptography. The paper is from Certicom, which markets Security Builder toolkits to developers of devices based on Microsoft's Windows Embedded and Windows Mobile operating systems. Enjoy! . . .
Primer on elliptical curve cryptography
July 20, 2004

Mutations go tick, tock
Statistical analysis reveals evidence for molecular clock in neutral DNA substitutions

By Cathy Holding
The rate of mutations in certain types of DNA sequences are the same no matter the species, according to a paper in this week's PNAS, and suggest the presence of a molecular clock that operates in DNA, say the authors.
The molecular clock hypothesis resulted from studying how beta-globin proteins from different organisms appeared to be changing at a fairly constant rate, no matter which lineage was studied, Philip Green, one of the authors, told The Scientist. But prior to the findings described in the paper, scientists had believed that such a clock—due to changes that occur as the result of errors during replication—could not hold at the DNA level.
Green and Dick G. Hwang, both of the Department of Genome Sciences at the University of Washington, applied a Bayesian Markov chain Monte Carlo sequence analysis—"a statistical model for a complicated situation where you can write down the mathematical equations but you can't solve them explicitly," said Green—to neutral mutations that have no consequence for an organism because they occur in noncoding regions. They incorporated the effect of neighboring sequences into the model, examining noncoding sequences from a 1.7-megabase genomic region in 19 mammalian species.
Adding such features as neighboring sequence to the so-called traditional methods caused the analysis of the data not to work any more, Goldman said. Some ideas of how neighboring nucleotides might be incorporated into statistical models had been around for some time, "and this… approach is one of them—but nobody's really got very far with doing it, because computationally it's horrible," he said.
"You need the computers; you need to be brave to wade in there and write the software that will do it," Goldman said. "This is the first one that I've seen that does it in this way to this data."
"If we understand the neutral evolution process as well as possible, then we should be able to do a better job of picking out parts of the genome sequence that are not changing neutrally and inferring that those are likely to have some important function," Green said.
Mutations go tick, tock
July 20, 2004

Aqua Products Introduces New Intelligence for Pool-Cleaning Robots

In another sign that the consumer robotics market is coming of age, Aqua Products today unveiled new technology for pool-cleaning robots that independently analyze the size and shape of any pool allowing them to intelligently map out the fastest, and most efficient cleaning course possible. A water-cleaning robotics leader for nearly a quarter-century, Aqua Products is the first and only company to make a robotic pool cleaner that learns about and becomes uniquely familiar with any individual pool. Its AquaSmart and Matrix mapping technologies are based on mathematical algorithms that enable the devices to calculate the most effective cleaning patterns and schedules. Aqua Products delivers artificial intelligence below the water line for the most effective, reliable pool maintenance.
Similar to the way the human eye and brain interact to avoid obstacles in your path, infrared sensors transmit signals to the microprocessor brain of the robots to detect objects and level changes, enabling them to focus on cleaning the pool floor, where the majority of debris resides. With the AquaSmart and Matrix mapping technologies, the robots continuously map the most efficient path around any pool, cleaning even the largest commercial pools in about one hour. Previous solutions lack this optimized cleaning pattern approach, requiring extra time and power to complete the task. Now, mathematical algorithms and human-like pattern planning from Aqua Products take pool cleaners from a traditional sweeper to an intelligent robot that consciously plans for its particular surroundings.
Aqua Products Introduces New Intelligence for Pool-Cleaning Robots
July 20, 2004

Israeli research targets terrorists on the Net
By Allison Kaplan Sommer
Investigation of the tragic events of September 11, 2001 made it clear that terrorist groups are increasingly using the Internet as a communication and propaganda tool where they can safely communicate with their affiliates, coordinate action plans, raise funds, and introduce new supporters into their networks.
This became evident to world security agencies from the large number of web sites run by different terrorist organizations though the URLs and geographical locations of these web sites are frequently moved around the globe.
To combat this rising tide, Israeli researchers are working on ways to make communication more difficult for terrorists. One of the leaders in the field is Ben-Gurion University Professor Mark Last who is conducting breakthrough research on fighting terror in cyberspace at his Software Quality Engineering/Data Mining) Laboratory on the Beersheva campus.
Last initiated the idea two years ago to take established ideas of data mining and computational analysis and apply techniques to the information on the Internet, especially on the Internet traffic. Using this technique, he believes, eventually terrorist internet activity will be able to be detected, even if that activity is taking place in the midst of a great deal of innocent activity at an Internet café, a company, or a university.
Last outlined his research during a recent conference on cyberterror he organized with BGU and which was supported by the Fulbright Foundation, Tel Aviv University, and the U.S. government's National Institute of Systems Test and Productivity in Tampa, Florida.
The Israel-U.S. connection has thickened in the fight against cyberterror due to the involvement in the conference of the NISTP, an independent body which is primarily funded by the U.S. Navy. Its participation grew out of Last's cooperation with colleagues at the University of South Florida.
As a result of this cooperation, Last's BGU lab is working as a subcontractor for the NISTP - focusing on design and development of Computational Intelligence (CI) methods that will enable government agencies and commercial companies to improve quality, security, and cost-effectiveness of large-scale information systems. Active research areas include automated recovery of system requirements, design of functional test cases, cyber security, and mining high volume data streams - with the current focus on cyberterror.
After a year and a half of working on a mathematical model, the research has moved to the stage of building a prototype.
Israeli research targets terrorists on the Net
July 20, 2004

Students must count on problem-solving skills
Not too long ago I visited a local high school where I found a teacher huddled with some students trying to work out a schedule for an intramural tennis tournament with 25 participants at a school that had only one tennis court. They wanted to find out how many matches would have to be played in this single-elimination tournament until one winner emerged. I watched as they tried to simulate the actual tournament, all the while counting the number of matches to be played. This was a bit tedious.
Rather than focus on the winners as they progress through the simulated tournament, I suggested that the students need just count the number of losers. To get a winner there must be 24 losers; that requires 24 matches. Problem solved.
This problem-solving strategy is not reserved only for mathematics. Faced with the problem of determining the attendance in an auditorium that is almost full, one can laboriously count the people present, or one can count the number of empty seats and subtract that number from the total number of seats in the auditorium - a much more efficient approach. Sometimes a detective can solve a mystery by considering the situation from a different point of view - that of the criminal. These are the problem-solving abilities we must instill in our youngsters.
As a member of the New York State education commissioner's committee charged with proposing a redefinition of the standards for mathematics instruction K-12, I am particularly sensitive to the need to provide our students with proper problem-solving skills. We educators are still not doing nearly enough to give our students such dexterity.
Students must count on problem-solving skills
July 19, 2004

Is Math a Sport?
And what about target shooting, Skee-Ball, and standing on one foot?
By Jordan Ellenberg
The math Olympiad may not attract a worldwide broadcast audience or demand traffic-jamming last-minute infrastructure fixes like the Olympic Games per se. But it's a contest as rigorous and rarefied as anything you'll see on NBC this August. Could mathletes someday compete alongside track stars and basketball players under the aegis of the five rings?
Can math really be a sport? That depends how you define "sport," something the IOC has carefully declined to do. It's not easy—try it yourself. Must a sport require physical exertion? If so, does target shooting count? And if you do count it—presumably because non-exertive physical skills like accuracy are athletic, too—then aren't you bound to include billiards, darts, and Skee-Ball? By what means do you distinguish between elemental physical trials like weightlifting and the marathon, and elemental physical trials like standing on one foot, or urinating for distance, or holding your breath as long as you can? (Bonus trivia question: Which of the latter three actually is recognized as a sport by the IOC? Scroll to the end for the answer.)
The philosopher Bernard Suits defines a sport as a game that meets the following four criteria: "(1) that the game be a game of skill; (2) that the skill be physical; (3) that the game have a wide following; and (4) that the following achieve a certain level of stability."
Suits, along with everybody else who thinks about the meaning of words, works in the shadow of Ludwig Wittgenstein, who famously addressed the question we're discussing in his Philosophical Investigations:
Consider for example the proceedings that we call "games." I mean board-games, card-games, ball-games, Olympic games, and so on. What is common to them all? Don't say: "There must be something common, or they would not be called 'games' "—but look and see whether there is anything common to all.
Wittgenstein rejects the idea that there exists a finite list of criteria like Suits' that precisely delineates games from non-games. He continues:
How should we explain to someone what a game is? I imagine that we should describe games to him, and we might add: "This and similar things are called games." And do we know any more about it ourselves?
Wittgenstein is skeptical that the set of "games" can be exactly circumscribed at all. At best, one gives examples and draws out "family resemblances"—activity X looks a bit like checkers and a bit like whist, and there's something in it that recalls hacky sack, so we call it a game.
That doesn't mean there are no right answers. It is a fact that basketball is a sport, and it is a fact that sautéing zucchini isn't. And I think it's a fact that the math Olympiad isn't a sport either. Sports have goals—to score touchdowns, to pin the opponent, to strike a distant target. On the surface, a math contest has the same nature—you're supposed to solve a set of problems within a certain time span. But that doesn't reflect my experience. Working on a math problem is a solitary, contemplative act. That's true whether you're in a room full of precocious teens in Athens or at home in bed before getting up for breakfast; whether the problem is the Riemann hypothesis or something you solve in nine hours at the Olympiad. You're alone staring at the guts of the confusing, inexplicable, irritating universe, and the problem you're working on seems like a small part of an impossible-to-finish job. If it's like anything physical, it's like mountain climbing—only what mountain climbing would be like if the whole world were a 45-degree upslope, with no peak and no opportunity for final triumph. That's not a sport. It's something better: a game you can't ever really win.
Is Math a Sport?
July 19, 2004

Add science, business, mathematics and stir

By Del Jones
Mathematics major Rebekah Stephenson taught high school for a year after graduating from Ohio State University, but, she says, "People who really love math are not going to teach algebra." And she didn't want to get a Ph.D. in math only to spend years working on something that would be read by a few other mathematicians working in the same subfield of expertise.
Many students strong in science and math face similar career dilemmas, fueling a stampede into places like law school just as global wars are being waged in biotechnology, cryptology, nanotechnology, forensic chemistry, environmental science and the like.
That has led to the creation of a new master's degree, the professional science master's (PSM), which promises to be the hot degree no one seems to have heard of — yet. It's so new that its first graduates were in 2002. Fewer than 400 students have earned a PSM. But the programs are expanding rapidly and are now offered at 45 universities in 20 states.
The PSM is being called the MBA for scientists and mathematicians. It's an education aimed at future managers who will be able to move comfortably in the business of science, from a meeting about enzymes to another about intellectual property rights, all the while understanding the goal is not a scientific journal article but marketable products.
Experts predict it will become the 21st century's fastest ticket to the major leagues in business and government. Its growth is being fueled by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which provided $11 million in seed money ( More than 900 students are enrolled nationwide. California and North Carolina are considering statewide launches to implement the degrees at most campuses.
Executives react like Pitney Bowes CEO Michael Critelli. He, too, had never heard of the PSM. But once it was described to him, he was sold. Pitney Bowes is moving heavily into cryptology and "no question" could use students with such training, Critelli says.
Some large companies are taking notice. Philip Tuchinsky, a project manager at Ford Motor who has a Ph.D. in mathematics, is very familiar with PSM degrees offered at Michigan State. Although Ford has not been hiring, he predicts PSM graduates will soon be in high demand. He thinks they will make significant contributions to Ford and provide a competitive edge to U.S. industry in general.
Stephenson, 25, received a PSM in industrial mathematics from Michigan State in 2002 and is now project engineer for Essayons Consulting Engineers, where she designs storm water drainage systems for new construction projects in Tacoma, Wash.
"The main commodity of being a mathematician is reasoning," Stephenson says. "The main preparation element missing in a typical math program is how to market this incredible ability."
"The students that we turn out are not future cubicle rats, but future project managers," says Charles MacCluer, director of Michigan State's PSM program in industrial mathematics.
"Business is getting too scientific to be managed by businessmen," he says. "They need a new hybrid, a scientifically trained person."
Add science, business, mathematics and stir
July 19, 2004

Mystery of Nanoparticles Concealed in the Blink of an Eye

University of Chicago
Scientists at the University of Chicago have discovered a better way to measure a confounding property of microscopic high-tech particles called quantum dots.
Quantum dots, also called nanocrystals, emit light in a rainbow of colors and are used in lasers, biological studies and other applications, but their tendency to blink hinders their technological value. Imagine the annoyance caused by a randomly flickering light bulb.
"A quantum dot might blink for just a millionth of a second or it might blink for 15 minutes," said Matthew Pelton, a Research Associate at the University of Chicago's James Franck Institute. "This is one of the problems we have to solve if we want to engineer the properties of materials, particularly semiconductor materials, on the nanoscale."
Pelton has found a way to measure the blinking that is simpler and faster than the conventional method. He will describe the measurements in the Aug. 2 issue of Applied Physics Letters with co-authors David Grier, now of New York University, and Philippe Guyot-Sionnest of the University of Chicago.
"Matt's approach is applicable to situations where previous measurements could not be made," Guyot-Sionnest said.
The four components of Pelton's system are a light source, a photodetector (a device that measures the intensity of light), an amplifier to boost the photodetector's output, and an analogue-to-digital converter that translates the amplified output into a string of numbers for digital processing.
The system has already revealed new insights into the behavior of quantum dots. Pelton's results contradict the conventional wisdom about the blinking dots, which states that environmental factors influence the behavior. Pelton made his finding by applying a mathematical tool commonly used by electrical engineers to the problem of blinking quantum dots. "The mathematical tool is almost 200 years old. No one had thought to apply it to this problem before," Grier said.
Mystery of Nanoparticles Concealed in the Blink of an Eye
July 18, 2004

Just the Facts
Best country to be a technocrat—China is led by a group of engineers who love projects, not lofty ideas
By Sarah Schafer
July 26 issue - Wu Jisong, a compact man with glasses and an easy smile, holds one of China's most difficult jobs. In a nation beset with droughts, Wu is in charge of making sure there is enough water not only for people to drink but for the textile and other industries that drive the country's rapidly growing economy—and guzzle natural resources at a troubling rate.
A mathematician whose business card bills him as a Ph.D. in the "technological economy," Wu likes to think of his challenge in numerical terms. He knows, for example, that China needs an extra 40 billion cubic meters of water annually. He also knows that the country's agriculture sector wastes about six times more water than the U.S. farming industry. Rather than give him a headache, the data soothe him. "If the thoughts are clear, then there is no pain," Wu says. "We just go step by step."
He's in the right country. China has some of the world's most daunting technical challenges—and perhaps the greatest number of high-ranking technocrats to deal with them. This is a nation of micromanagers: nearly all 24 members of the Politburo, the country's ruling body, have technical degrees from universities with names such as the Beijing Petroleum Institute, the Harbin Military Engineering Institute and the No. 1 Ordnance Technical School. Each of the nine members of the Politburo's Standing Committee is an engineer by training. And President Hu Jintao and other top pols are graduates of Beijing's Tsinghua University, China's MIT. Wu himself is the No. 2 person in China's Bureau of Water Resources and a member of the National People's Congress. He worked on the plan for the Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest construction project.
Just the Facts
July 18, 2004

Taiwan team wins 6 medals in Mathematics Olympaid
A team from Taiwan has won three gold medals and three silvers at the 54th International Mathematics Olympiad, according to reports from Athens Saturday.
The haul is the best Taiwan has achieved in the last five years.
The mathematics competition for high school students opened July 6 and will end Sunday following a closing and awards ceremony. The Greek capital is also the host of 2004 Olympic Games, slated to open in August.
The Taiwan team, comprising six high school mathematics whizkids and led by Professor Chuo Tai-cheng of National Kaohsiung Normal University, is scheduled to return home July 23.
Taiwan team wins 6 medals in Mathematics Olympaid
July 17, 2004

Plankton Cool Off With Own Clouds
By Amit Asaravala
Phytoplankton may be small, but that doesn't mean they can't do big things -- like change the weather to suit their needs.
A recent study funded by NASA's Earth Science Department shows that the tiny sea plants release high quantities of cloud-forming compounds on days when the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays are especially strong. The compounds evaporate into the air through a series of chemical processes that result in especially reflective clouds. This, in turn, blocks the radiation from bothering the phytoplankton.
Siegel and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution researcher Dierdre Toole announced the results of their study in the May issue of the Geophysical Research Letters, a scientific journal.
The two researchers performed the study on measurements taken off the coast of Bermuda. There, they found that the ocean levels of a compound called dimethylsulfoniopropionate, or DMSP, were directly related to the level of ultraviolet radiation reaching the phytoplankton that live near the ocean's surface.
DMSP is an important link in the plankton-to-cloud cycle because, as it leaves the phytoplankton cells and enters into the water, bacteria break it down into a chemical called dimethylsulfide, or DMS. Evaporated water, in turn, carries the DMS into the air where the chemical reacts with oxygen to form various sulfur compounds. These compounds collect as dust particles that promote water condensation, which, finally, leads to cloud formation.
The entire process takes place very rapidly, ensuring that the plankton aren't under the sun's rays too long. In their study, Siegel and Toole found that the upper layer of DMS in the atmosphere could be replaced in just a few days.
The researchers now plan to create computer models that explore how the presence and absence of phytoplankton might change the climate. They also hope to add to their study by using information from NASA's Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor mission, which collects data on shifts in visible light reaching the ocean's surface.
Plankton Cool Off With Own Clouds
July 17, 2004

Canadian Obtains a Perfect Score and Wins a Gold Medal at the 2004 International Mathematical Olympiad in Athens, Greece

Approximately 500 students competed at the 45th IMO. Only 45 were awarded Gold Medals of which an exceptional group of four students achieved a perfect score (42 out of 42).
"This year a Canadian student, Jacob Tsimerman, achieved this rare honor and can be considered world champion", said Dr. Christopher Small, Canadian Team Leader.
Competing against students from 84 other countries, Canadian high school students have done extremely well, winning one Gold Medal, three Bronze Medals and two Honorable Mentions at the 45th International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO), Athens, Greece from July 4-18, 2004.
Although students compete individually, country rankings are obtained by adding the team's scores. The maximum score for each student is 42 and for a team of six students the maximum is 252. The Canadian team placed 20th out of 85 competing countries with a score of 132.
Since 1981, Canadian students have received a total of 15 gold, 27 silver, and 55 bronze medals.
The six members of the Canadian IMO team were selected from among more than 200,000 students who participated in local, provincial and national mathematics contests. Prior to leaving for the 45th IMO, the team trained at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) from June 24th to July 8th, 2004.
Team members must be less than 20 years old when they write the IMO. The 2004 IMO contest was set by an international jury of mathematicians, one from each country, and was written on Monday July 12th and Tuesday, July 13th. On each day of the contest, there are three questions to be solved within a time limit of four and one-half hours.
The top 10 teams and their scores are: China (220); USA (212); Russia (205); Vietnam (196); Bulgaria (194); Taiwan (190); Hungary (182); Iran (178); Romania (176).
The 46th International Mathematical Olympiad will take place in Cancun, Mexico in July.
Canadian Obtains a Perfect Score and Wins a Gold Medal at the 2004 International Mathematical Olympiad in Athens, Greece
June 17, 2004

Waring Experiments

Ivars Peterson
The different ways of expressing whole numbers as sums of parts has long fascinated both professional and amateur mathematicians. Consider, for example, the sequence of squares of whole numbers: 1, 4, 9, 16, 25, 36, and so forth. As the sequence progresses, the gaps between consecutive squares get longer and longer. Clearly, most integers are not squares of whole numbers. Many integers can be written as the sum of two squares: 8 = 4 + 4; 10 = 9 + 1; 13 = 9 + 4; and so on. Other numbers can't be expressed as the sum of just two squares. To get a sum that equals 6, the only squares available are 4 and 1, and these won't do the job. Instead, it takes the sum of three squares: 6 = 4 + 1 + 1. Indeed, most positive integers can be written as the sum of three squares. For instance, 11 = 9 + 1 + 1 and 12 = 4 + 4 + 4. On the other hand, 7 is an example of an integer that can't be written as the sum of three squares. It takes four: 7 = 4 + 1 + 1 + 1. Do you ever need more than four squares to express an integer? In 1770, French mathematician Joseph-Louis Lagrange (1736–1813) proved what previous mathematicians had suspected or assumed: Every positive integer is either a square itself or the sum of two, three, or four squares. Earlier the same year, Edward Waring (1736–1798), a practicing physician and mathematics professor at the University of Cambridge, had conjectured that something similar could be proved for cubes, fourth powers, and so on. He stated, without proof, that it would take the sum of at most nine cubes or 19 fourth powers to express any whole number.
Waring's conjectures stimulated a great deal of mathematical activity. In the early 19th century, Berlin mathematician Karl Gustav Jacob Jacobi (1804–1851) assigned the problem to his "computer," an assistant who had compiled a list of the first 12,000 positive integers, each expressed as the sum of the smallest possible number of cubes.
In that list, the only number other than 23 that requires nine cubes is 239. Fifteen numbers require a minimum of eight cubes: 15, 22, 50, 114, 167, 175, 186, 212, 213, 238, 303, 364, 420, 428, and 454. The list of numbers requiring seven cubes is much longer, but it includes no numbers greater than 8,042.
Such data collection doesn't prove a conjecture, however. It serves only to suggest what may be true. Indeed, mathematicians took a long time to prove Waring's original assertions, and they had to turn to very complicated methods to do so.
Waring Experiments
July 17, 2004

Basketball: Life inside basketball's bubble
If you could somehow see the inner workings of Tab Baldwin's brain - having first surgically removed the ever-present cap - what you would see is what "has been going on in my head for 20 years".
It comes as no surprise to learn that the Tall Blacks' coach sees basketball. But he doesn't see "players passing. I don't see bodies. I don't have a picture of a gymnasium. I have a picture of a white piece of paper with a diagram on it".
He sees Xs and Os and arrows and dotted lines. These diagrams, and he can conjure dozens of combinations, represent players on a court.
This is the creative side of coaching, this playing out of moves in his mind, and is no different, says Baldwin, "from an artist or composer. You have things rattling around in your head and you put it down on paper. You're trying to make some sense of it". It is like writing a musical score or a mathematical formula - "a mathematician could probably understand it".
A mathematician probably could understand Baldwin. His thought processes are like formulae, in that he knows that at the end of the process he will find an answer - and that it will be right.
Basketball: Life inside basketball's bubble
July 17, 2004

The queen of integers

By E. E. Escultura. Ph.D.
Many, many years ago when I was in the third grade in the remote barrio of Nato, Gubat, Sorsogon, I invented a mathematical game that amused even the pupils in higher grades. It was based on my observation of the properties of whole numbers or integers. It took many years later for me to explain why it works. The explanation or proof appears in The Mathematics Teacher, July, 1983. I also reprinted it in the Science Section of The Manila Times, March 1, 2000, entitled, Mathematical ESP.
If you are a teacher, this is how it goes:
(1) Let each student write an integer (Hindu-Arabic numeral) without you knowing it. Suppose one wrote the number 748396521458058.
(2) Tell the student to add the digits; in this case, the sum is 75.
(3) Let him or her subtract 75 from 748396521458058:
748396521458058 — 75 = 748396521457983,
(4) Strike one digit out and add the remaining digits. You should be able to tell the number he struck out.
(5) This is how it works. Suppose the number struck out was 7 then the sum of the remaining digits should be: 74.
(6) Then, without hesitation, you will be able to tell that the missing digit is 7.
(7) Why? If no digit were struck out the sum of the digits of the difference should have been a multiple of 9.
(8) In this example, the sum is 81. Since the digit 7 is what you need to add to 74 to make the sum equal to the nearest multiple of 9 to 74, namely, 81, the missing number is 7. In other words, if you go through this procedure—adding the digits of any number and subtracting the sum from it—the sum of the digits of the difference will always be a multiple of 9. Why this is true is explained in the Mathematics Teacher article.
(9) If the number struck out is 0 or 9, then the sum would still be a multiple of 9. In this case you can claim that your ESP is a bit hazy today and that the missing number is either 0 or 9 but you cannot be more specific than that.
To convince yourself that this really works try striking out any other digit from the number on the right of item (3) and you will always be able to tell what it is. Try other numbers also and you will have the same result.
The queen of integers
July 16, 2004

Hawking U-Turn on Black Holes
By Jennifer Sym, and John von Radowitz, Science Correspondent, PA News
Black holes don't swallow their secrets forever – so "we can be sure of the past and predict the future", renowned Cambridge mathematician Professor Stephen Hawking has claimed.
Prof Hawking has argued for almost 30 years that a black hole destroys everything that falls into it.
But he has now re-evaluated the theory – and his about-turn is said to have set the astrophysics community buzzing.
Speaking on BBC's Newsnight last night, he said: "I've been thinking about this problem for the last 30 years, and I think I now have the answer to it.
"A black hole only appears to form but later opens up and releases information about what fell inside. So we can be sure of the past and predict the future."
Black holes are regions in space where matter is compressed to such an extent that not even light can escape from their immense gravitational pull.
Nothing that disappears into a black hole is ever seen again – or so scientists thought.
Yet Prof Hawking demonstrated in 1976 that, under the strange rules of quantum physics, black holes were capable of radiating energy.
He calculated that once black holes form they effectively start to "evaporate" away – radiating energy and losing mass in the process.
But by conjuring up "Hawking radiation", the mathematician, who is crippled by motor-neurone disease, also created one of the biggest conundrums in physics.
It is known as the "information paradox" and concerns the fate of what enters a black hole.
According to current theory, Hawking radiation contains no information about the matter inside a black hole, and once the black hole has evaporated, all the information within it is lost.
However this conflicts with a central tenet of quantum physics, which says that such information can never be completely wiped out.
New Scientist said: "In essence, his new black holes now never quite become the kind that gobble up everything. Instead, they keep emitting radiation for a long time, and eventually open up to reveal the information within."
If Prof Hawking succeeds in making his case he will lose a bet that he and theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) made with John Preskill, also of Caltech.
They argued that "information swallowed by a black hole is forever hidden and can never be revealed".
The forfeit is an encyclopaedia, from which Preskill can recover information at will.
Hawking U-Turn on Black Holes
July 16, 2004

The students who can't do basic maths
By Sarah Harris
Many first-year university students lack the basic numeracy needed to study at degree level, according to a survey of college chiefs.
Of the vice-chancellors polled, 54 per cent were concerned about the mathematical abilities of undergraduates on technical courses which demand a higher grasp of the subject.
And two-thirds of those admitted they had to provide classes to help students catch up, in one case setting up a maths support centre to counter the growing problem.
Others warned that the decline of mathematical ability remains a constant concern.
One vice-chancellor said: ' Numeracy has been a particular issue for us, primarily in relation to areas of science and engineering.'
'Universities should be able to be confident that students arriving to do maths and technical courses are well equipped to do those courses. They should not have to teach school-level maths to their undergraduates.'
The students who can't do basic maths
July 16, 2004

Movie tests Asimov's moral code for robots
The possibility of developing truly intelligent machines, and their potential to be friend or foe to humanity, gets the Hollywood treatment in a new blockbuster film I, Robot, which opens in the US on Friday.
At the heart of the movie are Isaac Asimov's "Three Laws of Robotics", invented as a simple, but immutable moral code for robots.
Even if researchers are ever able to build robots with enough intelligence to comprehend Asimov's laws, they are unlikely to be implemented. Although they attracted some interest in the early stages of artificial intelligence research, the rules were quickly abandoned as too prescriptive and simplistic.
"Asimov's laws are about as relevant to robotics as leeches are to modern medicine," says Steve Grand, who founded the UK company Cyberlife Research and is working on developing artificial intelligence through learning. "They stem from an innocent bygone age, when people seriously thought that intelligence was something that could be 'programmed in' as a series of logical propositions."
The key problem, Grand says, is that the basic operating principles of the human brain - the only model for advanced intelligence that we have - are not well understood. There are currently many theories and possible approaches to generating artificial intelligence, and Bundy warns that the field remains hideously fragmented for now.
One way to create thinking robots, which is being championed by Grand and others, may be through teaching. Grand is experimenting by teaching a simple robot, called Lucy, and hopes that robots could one day develop complex intelligence by mimicking the way humans learn.
"They'll just have to learn the difference between right and wrong, like the rest of us," he told New Scientist. "I'm confident we'll get there, but I think it'll happen in a series of sudden, unpredictable lurches, not a steady progression."
Movie tests Asimov's moral code for robots
July 15, 2004

EDUCATION:How to teach maths effectively, by Prof Adepoju
By Olubusuyi Adenipekun
A major reason why millions of students all over the world see mathematics as an extremely difficult subject is the failure of teachers at all levels of educational institutions to adopt simple teaching methodologies. This subsequently results in students having trepidation and dislike for the subject in particular, and for mathematical sciences generally. This was part of the submissions of Jerome Ajayi Adepoju, a professor of mathematics, while delivering the first inaugural lecture of the University of Lagos in the 2003/2004 academic session entitled: "Beyond Equations and Formulae: Our World of Mathematics."
Consistent failure in mathematics for a period of time, according to him, often results in mathematical anxiety. And one way to assist such people is for a teacher to teach the content (concepts, skills and procedures) first and then develop appropriate cognition skills later in order to increase the potential and abilities of such people to learn the subject. This is because it is known, he says, that as a child's cognitive functioning improves, so will his/her potential for learning mathematics.
While other nations of the world have been paying attention to the growing body of knowledge on how young children learn mathematics, Nigeria is not making any progress in this direction with her children.
Professor Adepoju, who is also the University's Deputy Vice-Chancellor (management services), further examines the problems facing the teaching of mathematics in primary and secondary schools as well as in universities across the country.
At the primary school level, mathematics teaching, he reveals, is still dominated, to a large extent, by unmotivated drills and purposeless skills characterised largely by rote learning (the process of learning something by repeating it until you remember it rather than by understanding the meaning of it). The curricula is examination driven while the teachers are unmotivated, ill-equipped, ill-prepared and poorly paid.
At this level, he says, people with neither aptitude nor relevant training in mathematics are found teaching the pupils. "Knowledge attainment of the children could no longer be measured as the primary school leaving certificate examination hitherto used for this purpose has since been jettisoned or de-emphasized by governments. With this situation, one could not expect miracles in the performance of the pupils in any subject, especially mathematics, as the pupils transit automatically to the secondary school level," Adepoju explains.
EDUCATION:How to teach maths effectively, by Prof Adepoju
July 15, 2004

The rise of 'Digital People'
By Sidney Perkowitz
The scientists and engineers spearheading the creation of artificial beings and bionic people are responding to the magnetism of the technological imperative, the pull of a scientific problem as challenging as any imaginable.
Fascinating scientific puzzle though it is, the creation of artificial beings is also expected to meet important needs for society and individuals. Industrial robots are already widely used in factories and on assembly lines. Robots for hazardous duty, from dealing with terrorist threats to exploring hostile environments, including distant planets, are in place or on the drawing boards. Such duty could include military postings because there is a longstanding interest in self-guided battlefield mechanisms that reduce the exposure of human soldiers, and in artificially enhanced soldiers with increased combat effectiveness. (For this reason, the Department of Defense, largely through its research arm — the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — is the main U.S. funding source for research in artificial creatures.) Artificial creatures can also be used in less hostile environments: homes, classrooms, and hospitals and rest homes, serving as all-purpose household servants, helping to teach, and caring for the ill or elderly.
They cannot pass for human in either appearance or behavior, at least not at the behavioral level proposed by the British mathematician, Alan Turing, in 1950. In what is now universally known as the Turing test, he proposed a purely verbal criterion for defining a "thinking machine" as intelligent. Imagine, he said, that a human observer can communicate with either the machine or another human without seeing either (for instance, via keyboard and printer), and can ask either any question. If after a reasonable time the observer cannot identify which of the two is the computer, the machine should be considered intelligent.
Some researchers now think the Turing test is not a definitive measure of machine intelligence. Yet it still carries weight, and now, for the first time in history, the means might be at hand to make beings that pass that test and others. Advances in a host of areas—digital electronics and computational technology, artificial intelligence (AI), nanotechnology, molecular biology, and materials science, among others — enable the creation of beings that act and look human. At corporations and academic institutions around the world, in government installations and on industrial assembly lines, artificial versions of every quality that would make a synthetic being seem alive or be alive — intelligent self-direction, mobility, sensory capability, natural appearance and behavior, emotional capacity, perhaps even consciousness — are operational or under serious consideration.
No matter what emerges from controversies about robotic consciousness or the morality of making artificial beings, no matter what approach to artificial intelligence proves effective, one thing is clear: Without digital electronics and digital computation, we could not begin to consider artificial intelligence and artificial sensory apparatus, the physical control of synthetic bodies, and the construction of interfaces between living and nonliving systems. Although the history of artificial beings has presented many ways to create them, animate them, and give them intelligence, now we are truly entering an era of digital people.
The rise of 'Digital People'
July 15, 2004

Einstein's legacy earns Hebrew U. millions
By Oded Hermoni
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem has netted some $10 million over the last eight years from royalties charged for the commercial use of Albert Einstein's name and image.
The Nobel laureate bequeathed his intellectual property rights to the university.
Moshe Vigdor, vice president and director-general of Hebrew University, said that the annual royalties have ranged from $1-1.5 million, but in 2005, they are expected to reach $2 million.
Einstein died in 1955. Before his death, however, he realized the commercial potential of his name and image, and decided to leave the commercial rights to them to the university. But Hebrew University only formalized its rights and began earning revenues from them in the past decade.
The world will celebrate the 100th anniversary of Einstein's publication of his theory of relativity next year, which is why the university expects to see an increase in the use of the scientist's image in 2005. Germany, Einstein's native country, will be issuing commemorative stamps and coins, and talks are currently in progress to determine the royalties.
The university is also not averse to challenging unauthorized uses of Einstein's name and image, both overseas - as in an American chain called Einstein Bagels - and in Israel. Vigdor said that the university will protect its rights, "which were granted in perpetuity," and is now preparing a lawsuit against a Japanese infringement.
Einstein's legacy earns Hebrew U. millions
July 15, 2004

Fiendishly hard puzzle proves elementary in the internet age
By Ben Fenton
Here are the solutions to the GCHQ Challenge - codes considered so difficult to crack by the Cheltenham-based intelligence chiefs that they were planning to post clues on their website next month.
Although The Telegraph is publishing the answers, they have been available for several weeks on the internet.
Unfortunately, the exercise has been ruined by the power of computers, the tools that in their first and elementary manifestations allowed codebreakers at Bletchley Park to decipher the supposedly impregnable Enigma codes of the German armed forces.
The amateur codebreakers used simple programmes they can download over the internet to turn the encrypted codes into a readable version, known as plaintext.
Then, by putting small extracts from the plaintext into a search engine such as Google, they were able to identify where the text had been taken from.
Fiendishly hard puzzle proves elementary in the internet age
June 15, 2004

The EU constitution is 'unfair', according to game theorists
Independent analysis reveals that complex voting doesn't add up, reports Roger Highfield
The European Constitution is unscientific, will not achieve the objective of "one person one vote", and will give Germany undue influence, according to a new analysis.
As Britain prepares a referendum on the new constitution, the study by scientists says that there are flaws in the most controversial aspect, the voting rules at the EU Council of Ministers.
Germany will gain the most voting power by far under the new constitution, giving it 37 per cent more clout than the UK, when they will have equal influence when the Treaty of Nice is introduced fully later this year.
Spain and Poland, who have held up the constitution in previous negotiations, will be the biggest losers.
The claims, in the journal Physics World, are made by Dr Karol Zyczkowski, a physicist, and Dr Wojciech Slomczynski, a mathematician, both from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, and are backed by about 50 scientists across Europe.
Overall, the constitution favours the biggest and smallest states in a systematic way. "The medium-sized states are losers," said Dr Slomczynski.
"The vote of a citizen in one country ought to be the same as for any other member state and this is strongly violated both in the voting system of the Treaty of Nice and in the constitution.
"These flaws were analysed independently by scientists from larger countries that benefit, such as Prof Moshe Machover from the London School of Economics, and Prof Werner Kirch of Ruhr University," said Dr Zyczkowski.
"The vast majority of the scientists working in our field share this point of view," he said. "Unfortunately, we were ignored by the politicians and their advisers.''
The scientists use a branch of mathematics called game theory to calculate how much power each country will have to sway the Council of Ministers if the new constitution is adopted, where a double majority is required to pass a vote – more than 15 states (out of 25, with two more soon) and 65 per cent of the bloc's population.
They report that the UK's voting power will drop from being the same as that of Germany, when the Treaty of Nice is introduced in November, to about 70 per cent of German voting power under the new constitution, reflecting the relative population size.
Although it seems right to weight votes by the population, it gives an individual in a big country more power than one in a small country, according to game theory analysis of fair voting published in 1949 by Lionel Penrose (father of the eminent British mathematician, Sir Roger).
He pointed out that voting power is not the same thing as voting weight: in a body with two members, one with 51 votes and one with 49, the latter appears to have almost the same weight but ends up with no power if there is a majority vote rule.
To represent true voting power, Penrose devised the "square root law", where the influence of each country is proportional to the square root of its population size.
The scientists have adopted this law to propose what has been nicknamed "the Jagiellonian Compromise": EU citizens would have the same voting power if each member state were given a weight that was proportional to the square root of its population, and if new legislation required 62 per cent of the votes at the council. The result would be to give all citizens equal influence, regardless of their home country.
The EU constitution is 'unfair', according to game theorists
July 14, 2004

Indian University names institute in honor of Penn State statistician
The Osmania University in Hyderabad, India, has established a new institute named in honor of Calyampudi R. Rao, emeritus holder of the Eberly family chair in statistics and director of the Center for Multivariate Analysis. The C.R. Rao Advanced Institute of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science was inaugurated this spring with a symposium on "Challenges in Mathematical and Computer Sciences.
The Rao Institute, which is intended to promote research and advanced study in the fields of mathematics, statistics and computer sciences, will hold international workshops, conferences and symposia to highlight advances in these fields. In addition to research facilities, the institute will be home to a museum illustrating the history of mathematics and statistics and their uses in research, industry and society.
The Rao Institute will have a dual focus on research and outreach. Scientists will undertake research in basic science and in new areas of statistics, such as data mining and quality control. The institute also will conduct special orientations for school teachers in an effort to improve the teaching and learning processes in schools.
One of the world's top five statisticians, Rao is recognized internationally as a pioneer who laid the foundation of modern statistics, with multifaceted distinctions as a mathematician, researcher, scientist and teacher. His contributions to mathematics and to the theory and application of statistics over the last six decades have become part of graduate and postgraduate courses in statistics, econometrics, electrical engineering and many other disciplines at most universities throughout the world. Rao's research in multivariate analysis, for example, is useful in economic planning, weather prediction, medical diagnosis, tracking the movements of spy planes and monitoring the course of spacecraft. Technical terms bearing his name appear in all standard textbooks on statistics, including such terms as the Cramer-Rao Inequality, Rao-Blackwellization, Fisher-Rao Theorem, Rao Distance and Rao's Score test. A book he wrote in 1965, Linear Statistical Inference and Its Applications, is one of the most-often-cited books in science.
Rao earned his Ph.D. and Sc.D. degrees in 1948 at Cambridge University in England. He came to the United States 1978 after serving as director of the Indian Statistical Institute, where he had held various research and administrative positions since 1944. In 1982 he established the Center for Multivariate Analysis at the University of Pittsburgh, where he continues as adjunct professor. Rao joined the Penn State faculty in 1988.
He has authored or co-authored 14 books — some of which have been translated into several languages — and more than 300 research papers published in scientific journals. He has supervised the doctoral research of approximately 50 students who have trained another 250 doctoral students themselves. Most of his former students now are employed in universities and other research organizations worldwide, many becoming research leaders in their areas of specialization.
Indian University names institute in honor of Penn State statistician
July 14, 2004

Art Museum program helps students sharpen math skills
Oriana Parker
It is a three-week course, but one that can change the course of high school.
From June 14 through July 2, about 900 Glendale Union High School District ninth-graders jump-started their academic career with a free class, Project SHARP, which stands for Summer High School Algebra Readiness Program.
The project, which began in the summer of 1987, has delivered some impressive results, said Marilyn Steffen, field-trip coordinator.
"On an overall basis, those students who successfully complete the course end up with higher grades at the end of the first quarter and the end of the first semester than those students who don't enroll," Steffen said.
"One of the special features of the SHARP project is a once-weekly field trip to local business, cultural and governmental agencies to see how mathematics is used in the workplace," Steffen said. "Thanks to their special 'Math in Art' program, the Phoenix Art Museum has become one of our most popular destinations."
The "Math in Art" program came about when the Glendale Union High School District went to the museum and asked if a math-related program could be developed for the fifth through eighth grades.
"We spent at least a year writing and refining the program," said Jan Krulick-Belin, Phoenix Art Museum director of education.
"Mathematical principles such as line, volume, proportion, symmetry and perspective are explained in cultural, scientific and historical contexts."
Initiated during the 2000-01 academic year, "Math in Art" has become the museum's most popular student tour. During the 2003-04 academic year, approximately 2,800 students took advantage of the 60-minute program.
Art Museum program helps students sharpen math skills
July 13, 2004

Infinity Pharmaceuticals Uses MATLAB For Drug Discovery Data Analysis
NATICK, Mass., July 13 /PRNewswire/ -- The MathWorks today announced that Infinity Pharmaceuticals, Inc. is using MATLAB®, the Statistics Toolbox, and the Curve Fitting Toolbox for data analysis. Infinity Pharmaceuticals' scientists now have a common technology for their analysis tasks, which cuts redundant experiments as a result. By integrating MATLAB into their existing data analysis applications, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based drug discovery company was able to cut development time significantly, which resulted in annual savings of $100,000. MATLAB and its toolboxes also provided Infinity researchers with a consistent, powerful tool for conducting accurate data comparisons and increasing the certainty and quality of results.
"With the integration of our in-house tools and existing Java code into MATLAB, our scientists can develop applications even more quickly today," said Dennis Underwood, vice president of discovery informatics and computational science at Infinity Pharmaceuticals. "The reduction of our development time has resulted in an annual savings of $100,000. We estimate that our future application development in MATLAB will be shortened to just a few days compared to perhaps months. This has the potential to save us hundreds of thousands of dollars more."
Infinity Pharmaceuticals is an innovative Cancer drug discovery company focused on discovering and developing therapeutics that target cancer cell survival utilizing Infinity's novel small molecule chemistry platform. Among other applications, Infinity uses MATLAB to calculate IC50 curves, the concentration of a drug that is required for 50 percent inhibition of enzyme activity. By integrating MathWorks tools with other third party tools and a host of home-grown applications, Infinity's scientists review, analyze, and annotate data by removing outliers and dynamically refitting the curves. Furthermore, by engineering MATLAB to work as a service that is called across a distributed architecture, Infinity's informaticians ensure that the tools would scale well and would perform their tasks without requiring MATLAB training for scientists.
Infinity Pharmaceuticals Uses MATLAB For Drug Discovery Data Analysis
July 13, 2004

Humboldt Research Award Winner Professor Dr. Vladimir Vapnik, Named to Health Discovery Corporation Scientific Advisory Board
SAVANNAH, GA -- (MARKET WIRE) -- 07/13/2004 -- Health Discovery Corporation (OTC BB: HDVY), a biotechnology company focused on biomarker and pathway discovery for diagnostic markers and drug targets, today announced the appointment of Prof. Dr. Vladimir Vapnik to its Scientific Advisory Board. Prof. Vapnik is the 2003 winner of the Humboldt Research Award.
Dr. Barnhill, Chairman and CEO of Health Discovery Corporation, said, "We are thrilled and honored to have the creator of and world's leading authority on Statistical Learning Theory on our Board. At the risk of vast oversimplification, our research in biomarker discovery takes us through mountains of clinical data, looking for small nuggets of information, which can lead to extremely valuable contributions to the field of personalized medicine. In a sense, the mathematical expertise that Prof. Vapnik provides gives us a very large, very precise, very quick shovel. And now his hand will help guide it."
Prof. Vapnik said, "We are on the cusp of major breakthroughs in creating medical treatments personalized for individual patients. The mathematical developments that will take us there exist now. I hope my contributions here will help bring about this revolutionary development."
Professor Vapnik's major achievements include the development of a general theory for minimizing the expected risk of losses using empirical data and a new type of learning machine that possesses a high level of generalization ability. His techniques have been used to solve many pattern recognition and regression estimation problems and have been applied to the problems of biomarker identification of genes and proteins in diagnostic and drug discovery.
Humboldt Research Award Winner Professor Dr. Vladimir Vapnik
July 12, 2004

Seymour Papert
Presenter: Geraldine Doogue
Geraldine Doogue: You were involved in the cutting edge of artificial intelligence in the 1960s, what were your ideas then about how far computers could go in replicating human intelligence?
Seymour Papert: There's a huge difference between the way people thought about artificial intelligence then and now. In those sixties, people in AI really thought in sort of galactic cosmic terms. We were interested in the possibility of some kind of artificial entity that would be as intelligent as a person and/or more intelligent. It was obvious, it still is obvious to me though, if you could make something as intelligent as a human it would be much more intelligent because there are many limitations that we have that a machine wouldn't have. And if it could have all the things that we have it would have much more.
Geraldine Doogue: So this was very bold new world stuff?
Seymour Papert: It was very, very bold new world stuff. I mean, some people might say sort of crazy, arrogant…
Geraldine Doogue: Well, do you now think that as an elder of the tribe? Do you look back now and think 'goodness that was the folly of youth'?
Seymour Papert: Oh, I don't think it's the folly of youth; I think it will come. What I think has become clearer is that we need some great new insights…
Geraldine Doogue: Into artificial intelligence?
Seymour Papert: John McCarthy, who is one of the other people involved in this, proposed a measure of greatness of idea, like one Einstein, is one of these ideas that happens once or twice a century. And the idea that you could use computers to do some things that the brain does – that the mind does – is maybe an Einstein's worth of insight. And McCarthy guessed we need, at least, maybe one Einstein's worth or maybe two Einstein's. Something is needed that we don't have. I'm not sure that it's human. Because I think it's quite possible that if we could make an artificial cat, we could make an artificial man. The things that we can do is we can make the thing play super chess or do things of that sort that only people can do and cats can't do. Nobody has made a machine that can behave like a cat or any mammalian animal. And so there is something about the way ….. let's call it information, is processed, because this concept of information came out of that same intellectual movement and…
Geraldine Doogue: What I'm curious about then is out of this fascinating time working with Jean Piaget – who developed that whole notion of the stages of development for children – how would digital technology fit in to what you learned then? Because you're a great advocate for digital technology being used to help children make leaps in their own intelligence. How does it?
Seymour Papert: There are two connections and one, I think, is maybe less relevant but it was historically more important and that was digital models lead to a possibility of making a theoretical model of what goes on in children's thinking. Now, the other side that's related but in practice really quite different, has to do with the flexibility of digital intelligence in providing kids with things to do and I think that…Piaget, among others, had always criticised our education system because it's more telling kids things and less learning by doing. The real learning happens by doing and so…
Geraldine Doogue: It's hands on in a way
Seymour Papert: Hands on. The idea had been around – Montessori and John Dewy and all sorts of people had said you'll learn better by making things, doing things, hands on. But, for something like mathematics, there really wasn't very much that you could do if you're a little kid that contacts a lot of the deep ideas we'd like them to learn. So, mathematics grew out of building the pyramids and sailing the oceans and predicting the stars and you can't give kids pyramids to build or oceans [to sail] so we could only give them very trivial things to do. You know measuring the schoolyard is ridiculous mathematically, it's trivial and nobody's interested in it. Comes the computer and it's now possible to let kids free in a big world where they can create and they can make things and do things and that are really rich in concepts.
So it's possible to learn mathematics in a way, closer to the way mathematics developed that is. Starting with a way to understand the world and get things to happen and do things. So this leads to a real big turnaround in the way we think about learning and I think we've stood things upside down in our education system that we start teaching pure mathematics and hope later on that one day they'll apply it to physics and engineering. I think we can reverse that completely – teach engineering in first grade or in kindergarten and then build up to pure mathematics.
Geraldine Doogue: So that if you had your druthers and you were designing a curriculum, I know you have been involved in particularly leading edge work with young children who we have to equip in a certain period of time where they sit at school rooms for the world they're about to enter. How would you change what you see in most schoolrooms, in say the US at the moment?
Seymour Papert: Well I think that about 90 per cent of what we teach in mathematics in schoolrooms I'd throw out, it's not really of any use in the modern world. Some of it was useful in an ancient world, like the 19th century or maybe the early 20th century and some of it was only useful as the way you could get kids to adopt a certain mathematical way of thinking when all you had to work with was pencil and paper. Think about the stuff that kids learn, knowing that a third is less than a half yeah that's important, but everybody who's worked in a kitchen knows that.
Knowing how to add fractions by taking the common denominator and all that manipulation – nobody in the world does that. It's not a practical thing that you need to do. Nobody need to know the formula for solving a quadratic equation – B +…
Geraldine Doogue: (laughs) sorry, this is coming very home to roost
Seymour Papert: But 90 per cent of what we teach in school math is irrelevant today. A lot of it is about how numbers are written. It's the influence of a paper based learning. Yeah you think of all that stuff you spent hours and hours, you write the numbers…. It's about how you write numbers, it's not about understanding numbers. It's not about using numbers.
Seymour Papert
July 12, 2004

Maths Can Be Fun And Games The Girls Show It
Bandar Seri Begawan – A Maths Car Trail was held here for the first time, yesterday marking the 12th Explomaths 2004 and the Raja Isteri Girls High School (STPRI) won it.
It was an event to show that there are various ways of learning and enjoying Mathematics.
The fun method is by integrating the subject into outdoor activities to demonstrate that mathematics can be enjoyable too.
Twenty five schools, both government and non-government country wide participated.
Each school was represented by three students of lower Secondary I up to lower Secondary III with their teacher as the driver.
Also present was the Senior Education Officer at the Ministry of Education, Pengiran Haji Idris bin Pengiran Haji Bakar.
The students began their trail from the Ministry of Education's parking lot where they had to cover five different destinations around the district.
The students solved maths problems within a restricted time based on the questions handed over at every destination.
Among the objective of this event was to enhance and promote the interest in Mathematics through games and activities as well as to test the students' ability on how to solve the problems correctly and accurately within the given time.
The event was organised by the Pehin Datu Seri Maharaja Secondary School of Mentiri. -- Courtesy of Radio Television Brunei
Maths Can Be Fun And Games The Girls Show It
July 11, 2004

Confronting National Mathematics Phobia in Ghana (Part 2)
(Part 1)
The culture of mathematics learning in Ghana's educational institutions is the direct consequence of both mathematics teaching culture and students' perception about the nature of mathematics and its importance in formal education. How do Ghanaian students learn mathematics? What beliefs, attitudes, or assumptions influence the way Ghanaians learn mathematics in schools, colleges, and universities? To answer this question, we should look critically at the culture of teaching mathematics in Ghana, for as we have already alluded to mathematics teaching culture shapes significantly mathematics learning culture. The two are inseparable. We summarize below the culture of mathematics learning in Ghana. We would like to emphasize that the culture of mathematics learning in Ghanaian educational institutions is a generalization and do not reflect individual variations or individual subculture. We also would like to add that this culture of mathematics learning is identified through our lived experiences (Fredua had both his elementary and secondary schooling in Ghana, whereas Ahia had all his schooling in Ghana except his doctoral studies) and series of observations of Ghanaian students learning mathematics both in Ghana and also in North America.
1 Students learn mathematics by listening to their teacher and copying from the chalkboard rather than asking questions for clarifications and justification, discussing, and negotiating meanings and conjectures. Consequently, students learn mathematics as a body of objective facts rather than a product of human invention.
2.Students hardly read their mathematics textbooks or other mathematics texts books. Where students read the prescribed mathematics textbooks, they read them like the way they read novels or newspapers.
3. Students could go to the library to read newspapers or novels, not mathematics. Mathematics is learned only in the mathematics classrooms or for examinations, quizzes, or tests.
4. Students could form a small study group outside of their classroom to do home work assignments or prepare for an examination or tests, but not for discussing mathematical concepts that were taught to them in the classrooms.
5. Students learn mathematics by regurgitating facts, theorems or formulas instead of probing for meaning and understanding of mathematical concepts. That is to say, students hardly ask the logic or philosophy underlying those mathematical principles, facts, or formulas.
6. Students accept whatever the teacher teaches them. The teacher is the sole authority of mathematical knowledge in the classroom, while the students are mere receptors of mathematical facts, principles, formulas, and theorems. Thus, if the teacher makes any mistakes the students would also make the same mistakes as the teacher made.
7. Most students do mathematics assignments and exercises not as a way of learning mathematics, but as a way of "disposing off" those assignments to please the teacher. This implies that mathematics assignments are not construed as an instrument for learning mathematics.
8. Students go to mathematics classes with the object to calculate "something". Therefore, if the classes do not involve calculations they do not think that they are learning mathematics. So students learn mathematics with the goal to attain computational fluency, not conceptual understanding or meaning. For a conceptual understanding requires students to think critically and act flexibly with what they know. Students are fond of asking, " How do you calculate that?" instead of asking" why do you calculate it in that way?"
9. Students learn mathematics with the aim to pass a test or examination. After passing the test or examination mathematics is no longer of importance to the students.
10. Students have internalized the false belief that mathematics learning requires an innate ability or the "brains of an elephant".
11. It is generally believe that only science-oriented students must learn and master mathematical principles, not so-called arts or business students. Alternatively, most people (including some mathematics teachers) believe that art or business students require a pass in mathematics in their final examinations. Though people believe that artisans or technicians must learn mathematics, they not believe that they have to master as much mathematics as science students (those who want to study engineering, medicine, architecture, computering, electronics, etc).
Confronting National Mathematics Phobia in Ghana (Part 2)
July 10, 2004

Our Future Lies in Investing in Mathematics -- Prof Adepoju
Emmanuel Edukugho
The future of Nigeria lies in appreciating and investing in mathematics and in the mathematical sciences, according to Professor Jerome Ajayi Adepoju, a renowned mathematician and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Management Services) University of Lagos.
Adepoju, who delivered the 2003/2004 1st Inaugural lecture of the institution at the main auditorium on Wednesday titled "Beyond Equations and Formulae: Our World of Mathematics", called on the federal government to play more significant role in challenging the universities on the direction of mathematical research considered indispensable to the country's technological development.
"This is the situation in all the developed world where national (federal) governments through appropriate agencies provide the desired leadership and a substantial percentage of the required funding for mathematical research." He gave the example of the United States in which the federal government through its agencies is one of the largest employers of mathematicians in addition to providing the enabling environment and funding. "Notable agencies in this effort, are the National Security Agency, the Airforce, Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and the Army Research office".
"In these agencies, research is funded in all areas of mathematics relevant to the mission of each agency", he explained. The erudite scholar implored government and Nigerians to continue to support the Nigerian Mathematical Centre (NMC) to enable it fulfill its mission of improving the standard of the mathematical sciences.
"If properly funded, and managed, the centre would make a significant difference to our mathematical and technological development. The NMC should be akin to similar centres and institutes such as the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), Trieste; the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS), Princeton; the Oberwolfach, Germany, Institutes Hautes Etudes Scientifiques (IHES), France; Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences, Cambridge, England; Steklov Institute of Mathematics, Moscow; Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, India; and the Weizmann Institute, Israel, etc. Most of the advances and breakthrough in the mathematical sciences emanate from such institutes and centres."
Our Future Lies in Investing in Mathematics -- Prof Adepoju
July 9, 2004

Google is behind mystery geek trap
Rupert Goodwins
Update: A mysterious mathematic message on a Silicon Valley billboard has sparked an online hunt for the author - but the mystery has been solved: it's Google
According to a software developers' blog hosted by New York's Fog Creek Software, the message - { First 10 digit prime in consecutive digits of e }.com - decodes to and a further mathematical test which has so far eluded decryption.
"This was from a huge billboard on [Highway] 101!" said one blogger. "These guys must have money!" Further investigation revealed that the server running the initial puzzle site seemed to be housed at's Mountain View, California, HQ.
Google is known for innovative recruitment methods and the high status in which it holds academic and mathematically skilled workers. People using Google to research data structures associated with search engine design get targeted job adverts from the company itself, while Wayne Rosing, Google's vice president of engineering, is on record as telling Reuters that the company has a virtually limitless appetite for hiring.
"The limit to our growth is our ability to get the best talent on the planet and get them working on the toughest computing problems around," Rosing said.
Meanwhile, the bloggers at Fog Creek Software are investigating ways to crack the next stage in the puzzle and find out more. It appears to be linked to 10-digit sequences of digits in e, the mathematical constant that is the base of the natural logarithms, which add up to 49. If you just happen to know the answer, there may be a job in Mountain View waiting for you.
Update: The mystery has now been solved. Click here to find out more.
Google is behind mystery geek trap
July 9, 2004

Math input part of food equation

the republican
SOUTH HADLEY - NASA scientists are studying ways to grow food in spacecraft should the country move forward with plans to send astronauts to Mars, a professor told a group of summer mathematics students at Mount Holyoke College.
John E. Cruthirds, chairman of the mathematics department at North Georgia College & State University at Dahlonega, Ga., told the group Wednesday that scientists are looking into ways astronauts could grow wheat, potatoes, lettuce and peanuts in an enclosed space.
He gave his talk to the more 50 teen-age girls enrolled in the college's SummerMath and Summer Explorations and Research Collaborations for High School Girls programs.
Cruthirds has spent time working with National Aeronautics and Space Administration food scientists at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, helping them come up with ways to use mathematics in deciding how to plan menus for astronauts. The mathematician has come up with ways to compare various menus in terms of such factors as taste, energy used in preparation and mass with an eye toward developing food plans should NASA send astronauts on a three-year mission to Mars.
Cruthirds said scientists are trying to develop a strain of low-growing weight plants to conserve space in a spacecraft. The plants could be grown hydroponically or by using artificial soil, he said.
Cruthirds said on a three-year Mars mission food would take up the most space of anything on the trip. Scientists want to provide nutrition with the least amount of weight, but the less a food weighs the less nutritious it is, the mathematics professor said.
Food in space is important in view of the fact that astronauts can lose as much as 22 percent of their cognitive ability if they are on a restricted diet, according to Cruthirds, who said it is important for astronauts to be alert all the time.
"The longer the mission the more important food is psychologically," Cruthirds said, explaining that astronauts miss eating crunchy food because scientists do not want crumbs floating around in their spacecraft.
The mathematician passed out samples of plastic wrapped, freeze-dried food eaten by astronauts, ranging from shortbread cookies to split pea soup.
Cruthirds said food scientists must also take into account that astronauts need less iron in space, but lose calcium at a faster rate, but that taking calcium supplements can result in kidney stones.
Math input part of food equation
July 9, 2004

Predict an election in 5 easy steps

By James Scott
Every four years, it seems, there's a new group of experts claiming to have hit upon the magic formula for predicting presidential election outcomes. Yale economics professor Ray Fair, for instance, got a lot of attention recently for predicting a 12-point Bush landslide using a mathematical model that takes into account prevailing economic conditions. Fair's model has a strong record, having missed by just a single percentage point in each of the last two presidential races.
Here's the plan. First, pick a highly volatile stock. Next, find the e-mail addresses of 32,768 stock-market investors. Break the investors down into two equal groups and send each group its own message. For one, predict that the stock will close higher tomorrow; for the other, predict that it will close lower.
Regardless of the next day's outcome, you will have made a correct prediction to 16,384 people. Now divide those folks into two groups of 8,192 and do the same thing you did before: To one half, write an e-mail predicting a higher close the next day, and to the other half predict a lower close. Do it again after day three, sending opposite predictions to two groups of 4,096.
Keep on going with this divide-and-conquer strategy, and after three weeks of trading, you will have made 15 correct predictions in a row to exactly one person. To that person, you'll look like a genius, or at least a preternaturally talented stock-picker. How much money do you think you could earn for your 16th prediction?
Of course, from behind the scenes, you know there's nothing interesting going on - no magic, no skill and certainly no luck. There are only 32,768 possible three-week sequences of up-or-down closings for an individual stock; you've just guaranteed yourself a way of hitting upon the right one by using a big enough pool of investors.
You could have run the ruse with any event, really: football games, coin flips, rainy days in Austin. Or even presidential elections.
In fact, this is exactly what happens with election forecasting, except instead of one person predicting thousands of different series, there are thousands of people predicting one series each. With that many people making guesses, a few of them are bound to be accurate simply by happenstance.
Of course, from behind the scenes, you know there's nothing interesting going on - no magic, no skill and certainly no luck. There are only 32,768 possible three-week sequences of up-or-down closings for an individual stock; you've just guaranteed yourself a way of hitting upon the right one by using a big enough pool of investors.
You could have run the ruse with any event, really: football games, coin flips, rainy days in Austin. Or even presidential elections.
In fact, this is exactly what happens with election forecasting, except instead of one person predicting thousands of different series, there are thousands of people predicting one series each. With that many people making guesses, a few of them are bound to be accurate simply by happenstance.
And that, of course, is the point. The current situation - thousands of possible bellwethers that might have been right every year, and a handful that actually are - is exactly what we'd expect to happen if everyone were just making random guesses. And when there's no evidence to distinguish a situation from the result of a random process, there's no reason to be impressed.
Yet we are impressed, quite mistakenly. Statisticians call this the problem of multiple hypothesis testing: People fail to adjust their subjective standard of impressiveness to account for the number of predictive models that initially had an opportunity to be impressive.
That, of course, is the fault of the campaign press corps, who will report on any election model or bellwether state that happens to predict correct results, without ever mentioning this problem of multiple hypothesis testing.
This demonstrates both irresponsibility and a disturbing lack of mathematical literacy among people who ought to know better.
It's time to expect more from the people who bring us election coverage.
Scott is a Plan II senior.
Predict an election in 5 easy steps
July 9, 2004

Business Web Search Wins Official Chinese Backing
By Eric Auchard
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A crack software development team backed by the former chief of Compaq Computer and China's official English language Web site plans to unveil on Thursday a Web search system covering 30 million businesses worldwide.
China Communications Corp. of Hoboken, New Jersey, will detail a search system it calls Acoona that mathematically calculates links between search terms and words with similar meaning in order to increase the likelihood of finding relevant results.
The closely held company plans to introduce a publicly available search system in December that trawls through a database of 20 million U.S. companies and more than 10 million companies across Asia, Europe and the rest of the world.
"It's the richest database of Chinese businesses on Earth," China Communications President Stuart Kauder said in a telephone interview. "Huge amounts of information will be available that were never before online."
In contrast to Google, Yahoo or Microsoft -- which rely on matching searches to keywords in a database -- Acoona uses artificial intelligence software that can be trained to locate related information. Fast Search and Transfer, an established Norwegian search technology company, employs a system of conducting searches on words with similar meanings. "There are some very good search engines out there," said Kauder, an early employee at Internet advertising company DoubleClick who worked in television advertising for 15 years. "We believe that a gulf exists when it comes to locating business information," he said. Acoona will allow Internet users to search for businesses according to an array of criteria including name, physical address, telephone, fax, business description, industry category, Web address and geographic location. The site will be accessible in both English and Chinese, Kauder said.
Business Web Search Wins Official Chinese Backing
July 9, 2004

Doing more mathematics without computation
By E. E. Escultura, Ph. D.
I HAVE just returned from Orlando, Florida, where I addressed a plenary session of the Fourth World Congress of Nonlinear Analysts on the subject, Dynamic Modeling of Chaos and Turbulence. This is the Philippines' contribution to science and mathematics. It is a new methodology that replaces conventional modeling. Conventional modeling describes nature in terms of numbers, equations, functions and relations while dynamic modeling explains nature in terms of its laws. Moreover, the latter gives primary role to qualitative mathematics over computation, a reprieve for most students who are overcome by mental black out at the sight of numbers.
Dynamic modeling has advantages over conventional modeling both for teaching and as a tool for the pursuit of science. It is common knowledge that most students have phobia for numbers and computation. At the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, most students fail in basic algebra and trigonometry due to difficulty with numbers and computation.
Qualitative mathematics enriches intuition and imagination and facilitates teaching and mathematical construction. For example, in conventional mathematics, graphing a curve requires finding its equation first, substituting some values into the equation, computing their corresponding values, plotting them on the rectangular coordinate system and connecting them to form its graph. For some curves this is impossible to do. Even if it were, it is traumatic for the freshman so much so that many students drop basic algebra and trigonometry during the first few weeks of classes.
It is clear that this new methodology alters the task of the scientist from one of solving mathematical equations to one of discovering appropriate natural laws constituting a physical theory that provides the solution of a scientific problem or explains natural phenomena. Every application of a physical theory to solve scientific problems requires the discovery of the appropriate laws of nature. To date 42 laws of nature have been discovered. They constitute what I call the flux theory of gravitation. It solves all the problems of physics and explains all natural phenomena.
Doing more mathematics without computation
July 9, 2004

Math may lead to new answers for Parkinson's disease
by Joy Poliquin
What do biology and Parkinson's disease have in common with mathematics? For UVic mathematician Dr. Rod Edwards, this combination is the key to unlocking new answers to old problems about the debilitating disease.
Edwards is the applied mathematician on a team of experts from Brock University and the University of Western Ontario who are studying the mathematical properties of Parkinsonian dyskinesias (undesirable involuntary movements), thanks to a $49,800 grant from the Parkinson Society of Canada.
Edwards will analyse the medical data recorded by his colleagues using mathematical concepts from nonlinear dynamics.
Edwards has previously worked with neuroscientists and physiotherapists on other symptoms of Parkinson's disease, such as tremor. In this case, for example, he applied mathematical techniques to precise recordings of finger tremors to define and catch the subtle differences between normal tremor in a healthy individual and the minor tremor that indicates an early stage of Parkinson's.
"Using the math, we could pick up on subtle differences that might not be detectable by a trained clinician," he says.
Edwards developed simple model equations to represent interactions between the structures in the brain that comprise our motor circuitry and control movement.
"If you take the system of equations representing a healthy person's motor circuitry, in which the activity is small and irregular, and then 'damage' part of this system, you typically see the mathematical equivalent of Parkinsonian tremor, which is a much more regular oscillation."
Edwards' research may lead to earlier detection of the disease and a better understanding of how the neuromotor system is affected. "With a mathematical approach we can describe this disease and its symptoms in new ways," he says. "The new project on diskinesias is in its early stages, but it looks promising."
Edwards has also worked as an applied mathematician on a study involving the movement problems of people with Down Syndrome. He's optimistic about the continuing development of applications of math in the biological world.
"Mathematical biology and physiology are ripe for exploration," he says. "While biochemists, biologists and medical researchers can extract vital information about structures or components, the networks of interaction between these components are often complex and math is a useful tool to understand how they work.
"People often think that abstract math is unapplicable to the real world," he adds. "But when the same abstract patterns underlie many different phenomena, math can offer fundamental insights and new ways to look at the world."
Math may lead to new answers for Parkinson's disease
July 9, 2004

`Home made' solutions for high performance computing
THE SEMI annual list compiled jointly by German and American Academics, at the Universities of Mannheim and Tennessee, ranking the world's `Top 500' supercomputers ( is one of the most closely watched indices of international heavy number crunching capability. For long, the list was the prerogative of half a dozen major computer companies. Indeed even today, 45 percent of the 500 machines are made by IBM and more than half use Intel processors.
And in the latest list (and 23rd) announced last month, the number one rank remained unchanged since 2002 — the Earth Simulator made by Japanese company, NEC, for modelling the world's climate and clocking a maximum 35.86 trillion floating point operations per second or teraflops. The new number 2 is the `Thunder' made by a relatively unknown assembler, California Digital Corporation and supplied to the Lawrence Livermore Laboratories. Its top speed is about half that of the NEC machine at 19.94 teraflops.
But one of the surprises in the June 2004 Top 500, is `Kabru', the do-it-yourself cluster Linux supercomputer assembled at Chennai's Institute of Mathematical Sciences (IMSc), just two months ago. It has been ranked no. 257 with a maximum computational speed of 959 Giga FLOPS (or billion floating point operations per second) and a peak speed of 1382.4 GFLOPS. The peak speed is achieved when the machine is fully stretched, but this may not be sustainable for long. The peak speed makes this machine, a `teraflop' (trillions of operations per second) supercomputer.
`Home made' solutions for high performance computing
July 7, 2004

Maths tweak required for EU voting
Two Polish scientists say the new European Union voting system is badly flawed and have proposed a formula to balance it up.
They claim suggested changes to voting rules for the EU Council of Ministers, the senior decision-making body in the union, will give the citizens of the largest countries a disproportionate influence over policy-making.
The new system is contained in the draft EU constitution recently agreed by Europe's leaders. It will come into force in 2009.
Current voting rules are based on the Treaty of Nice, which was signed in February 2001. They stipulate that each country's representative on the council should have a certain number of votes, called the country's voting weight.
Even these are not wholly fair, say Wojciech Slomczynski and his colleague Karol Zyczkowski, from Jagiellonian University in Krakow.
He argues that each country's voting power should more closely match its population size, and points to a mathematical idea to achieve this that has existed for many years.
"This idea was originated by Lionel Penrose, a British mathematician in the mid 40s. His work was about the distribution of votes in the UN General Assembly and he invented what we now call the Penrose Square Root Law," Slomczynski told the BBC's Science in Action programme.
"It tells us that the influence of each citizen of the EU upon the outcome of the voting of the Council will be the same if the voting power of a given member state in the Council is proportional to the square root of its population," Slomczynski added.
Slomczynski and Zyczkowski believe the hotly disputed qualified majority figure should be set at 62% of the population.
They say rigorous mathematical arguments show this quota to be optimal - the voting power of each citizen in every European country would then be exactly the same.
"There's a very important difference between voting weights and voting powers. If a given party has in a parliament 55% of votes, it has full power, so the quantities are different. But if we establish this threshold of qualified majority in the case of the EU Council at 62%, then those two countries are just equal," said Slomczynski.
As it stands, however, Europe's leaders have gone for a settlement put forward by the Irish.
Their new plan says measures must have the backing of at least 55% of EU states, representing at least 65% of the total population, in order to pass.
Maths tweak required for EU voting
July 7, 2004

Highly strung
The key to understanding the Big Bang and everything that followed may lie in a bizarre 10-dimensional universe of tiny vibrating 'strings'. Marcus Chown investigates
Is everything we see, out to the very farthest reaches probed by our telescopes, merely the wreckage of a titanic collision between universes? A group of physicists from Britain and America think it is. They call the colliding-universe scenario the "ekpyrotic universe", from the Greek for "born out of fire". They say the cosmic smash that triggered the Big Bang may not have been the first. "Before the Big Bang, there was another Big Bang and, before that, another, stretching way back into the mist of time," says Neil Turok from the University of Cambridge.
It's an awe-inspiring vision. And it comes from "string theory", one of the hottest topics in cosmology. String theory views the fundamental building blocks from which everything is made not as tiny, point-like "particles" but as impossibly small "strings" of super-dense matter. The strings - about 10 trillion trillion times smaller than atoms - vibrate exactly like strings on a violin. And each note they create corresponds to a different microscopic particle such as an "electron" or a "quark". The higher the pitch of the note, the more energy in the vibration and the heavier the particle.
Highly strung
July 6, 2004

What a Fool to Believe

By James K. Glassman
Heard the one about the monkey and the typewriter? "If one puts an infinite number of monkeys in front of (strongly built) typewriters and lets them clap away, there is a certainty that one of them [will] come out with an exact version of the 'Iliad,' " writes Nassim Nicholas Taleb in a recent book, "Fooled by Randomness."
The monkey typist story is an old one, and the key word is "infinite." But Taleb takes this hoary tale a step further. "Now that we have found that hero among monkeys, would any reader invest his life's savings on a bet that the monkey would write the 'Odyssey' next?"
Taleb's point is that the past frequently tells us nothing at all about the future, even though many of us believe it does and make investments accordingly. "Think about the monkey showing up at your door with his impressive past performance. Hey, he wrote the 'Iliad.' "
The lesson here for investors is powerful and frightening. How much can you rely on the track records of investment advisers, mutual fund managers, newspaper columnists or even the market as a whole in making decisions about your investment portfolio? Not nearly as much as you probably think.
Taleb's argument is that people are often tricked, mainly by the architecture of their own brains, into thinking that things that happen at random are actually happening by design. Adam Smith, the great Scottish economist and philosopher, wrote more than two centuries ago of "the overweening conceit which the greater part of men have of their own abilities [and] their absurd presumption in their own good fortune."
Taleb's book, which is full not only of infuriating meanderings and off-putting self-importance but also of extreme brilliance, changed the way I think about investing.
While skepticism is necessary for successful investing -- and for a successful life -- it can go too far. Peter L. Bernstein, in another brilliant book, "Against the Gods" (1996), a history of risk, quotes the Victorian writer and novelist G.K. Chesterton:
"The real trouble with this world of ours is not that it is an unreasonable world, nor even that it is a reasonable one. The commonest kind of trouble is that it is nearly reasonable, but not quite. Life is not an illogicality; yet it is a trap for logicians. It looks just a little more mathematical and regular than it is; its exactitude is obvious, but its inexactitude is hidden; its wildness lies in wait."
Exactly. Investing, like life, is both random and logical, and it is excruciatingly difficult to separate the two.
What a Fool to Believe
July 6, 2004

Maths, not medicine, could prevent fatal heart attacks
About 200 Australians aged 25 to 34 years die each year from heart attacks caused by cardiac arrhythmia. Most are apparently healthy young men who die within five minutes of the initial symptoms -- a suddenly irregular or fast heartbeat.
But the challenge of designing a pacemaker capable of correcting a potentially fatal arrhythmia is mathematical, not medical, according to University of New South Wales researcher, Dr Adelle Coster.
"The goal is to make an implantable artificial pacemaker that can arrest an abnormal heart rhythm before it becomes fatal," she says. "The mathematical challenge is to describe the complex patterns of electrical, chemical and neurological signals that trigger a potentially fatal heart attack.
"An arrhythmia is like a short circuit to the heart's electrical system," says Dr Coster, who has a three-year Australian Research Council grant to untangle the problem. "It interrupts the heart's rhythmic contraction and relaxation so it doesn't pump the way it's supposed to."
This abnormal rhythm can occur when electrical signals in the heart trigger rapid (tachycardia), slow (bradycardia) or chaotic beating (ventricular fibrillation).
"Normally, the heart's four chambers contract in a coordinated way, with the signal beginning in the sinoatrial node, which is the heart's natural pacemaker," she says. "The signal then travels through a series of heart chambers and nodes but problems can happen anywhere on this pathway.
"Understanding how these signals get passed from cell to cell is a non-linear dynamical problem we can treat mathematically by solving numerous simultaneous equations."
Maths, not medicine, could prevent fatal heart attacks
July 6, 2004

Science as Metaphor
By Amanda Schaffer
With his 1999 best seller The Elegant Universe, a NOVA special, and the recent release of a second book, The Fabric of the Cosmos, Columbia professor Brian Greene has become the closest thing that physics has to a pop star. A Harvard grad and former Rhodes scholar, lured in 1996 from a professorship at Cornell to a tenured position at Columbia, he has emerged as the chief ambassador of string theory, bringing cutting-edge work to the public in a series of TV appearances and lectures around the globe. His celebrity can be attributed to a widespread popular appetite for avant-garde science dressed in neat metaphorical packages: The universe is elegant; the cosmos is like a string symphony. Yet there is plenty to be suspicious of in Greene's unself-conscious romanticism—his unnuanced use of terms like elegance and beauty—and his teleological approach to the history of physics. Where, exactly, does he stand in the pantheon of physicists?
First, a quick bit of background: String theory—and superstring/M theory, a variant—both propose a scheme that encompasses two major and previously incompatible scientific frameworks, general relativity and quantum mechanics. General relativity describes gravity in terms of the curvature of space-time by matter/energy and successfully quantifies the very large. Quantum mechanics, on the other hand, explains the behavior of atoms and subatomic particles, characterizing the very small. String theory seeks to unify the mathematics of these colliding theories by positing that all matter and all fundamental forces can be described in terms of the vibrations of tiny, one-dimensional strings. (Mathematically, the theory also requires the existence of multiple, extra dimensions, said to be "curled-up" and as such beyond the realm of our sensory experience.) Greene likens the wiggling strands of string theory to the strings of musical instruments. In his telling, not only do different patterns of vibration produce different particles, but the whole universe is "akin to a string symphony vibrating matter into existence."
It's easy to see, then, why those inclined toward New Age thinking, or who search for spiritual significance in the material world, would find Greene highly attractive; Deepak Chopra would love Brian Greene (though the reverse is probably not true). The very qualities that make fellow scientists skeptical—the obsession with elegance, the quasi-spiritual shtick—are precisely what dazzle a public hungry for meaning.
Science as Metaphor
July 6, 2004

Scientist Alexander Lerner dead at 90
JERUSALEM -- Alexander Lerner, an eminent cyberneticist and a leading member of the "refusenik" movement that promoted Jewish emigration from the former Soviet Union, has died, a spokeswoman for an Israeli science institute said Tuesday. He was 90.
Lerner died on April 5 in Rehovot, the spokeswoman for city's Weizmann Institute of Science said. The institute had not made an official announcement of his death.
Lerner waged a 17-year struggle to leave the Soviet Union that engaged Israeli and western leaders. He was fired from his position as head of the Department of Large Systems Control Theory at the Soviet Academy of Sciences in 1971 when he applied for permission to go to Israel.
Lerner - whose textbook, Fundamentals of Cybernetics, remains one of the standard works on the subject - specialized in the connection between electronic systems and human control systems, like the brain. In all, he wrote 12 books and more than 170 scientific papers.
Upon reaching in Israel, Lerner accepted an appointment in the Mathematics Department at the Weizmann Institute where he pursued a number of projects including the development of an artificial heart and the construction of a mathematical model to predict the behavior of developed societies.
Lerner was born in the Ukraine in 1913. He earned a diploma in electrical engineering at the Moscow Institute of Energetics in 1936 and a Ph.D. from the same institution in 1939.
Scientist Alexander Lerner dead at 90
July 5, 2004

The Last Word: Calculus for Catastrophe

By Gordon Woo
July 12 issue - In april the international olympic committeetook the unprecedented step of buying $170 million worth of insurance to cover its operations in case the Athens Games are interrupted by terrorism or war. Such insurance has expanded rapidly since the September 11 attacks cost the industry $40.2 billion. New U.S. regulations require other types of insurers—property, casualty, environmental—to calculate their risk of terror as well. That has meant a lot of work for catastrophists, the specialist mathematicians whose job is to predict the likelihood of the unpredictable: hurricanes, earthquakes and man-made disasters. Gordon Woo, one of the world's leading catastrophists, works for Risk Management Solutions in London. He spoke with NEWSWEEK's Stefan Theil. Excerpts:
THEIL: Why is a mathematician interested in terrorism?
WOO: Mathematics provides a whole new set of tools in the war on terror. There's a mathematical model for conflict called game theory, which is actually an excellent way to simulate how terrorists select targets. We can use mathematical models of network geometry to see what the chances are of disrupting a terrorist network. Say you arrest four people, and you want to know what the chances are that you've disrupted a network or the plan for an attack. Mathematical models can tell us that.
You did risk analysis for a $260 million bond to insure the 2006 World Cup in Germany against terrorism. What did you come up with?
We had to look at a whole chain of things happening. What is the likelihood that the World Cup would be an interesting target for terrorists? We know in fact that it would be, since there was already an attempt at the 1998 Cup. Second, would they have the capability to mount an attack? What are the chances that intelligence services would interdict an attack through prior knowledge, as was the case in 1998? If not, what are their chances of getting through security? Finally, even if there is an attack, will it be big enough to stop the Cup, which is what was ultimately insured? We came up with a very small risk of.05 to.40 percent.
This year was the first time the Olympic committee bought insurance against terrorism.
The risk there is a lot higher. The advantage of soccer stadiums and ballparks is that one can have very tight security. The huge problem with the Olympics is the many events that are outdoors—marathon, cycling, yachting—and the sheer number of athletes. We didn't do the risk assessment, but in my view the likelihood of some kind of attack is very high, perhaps some kind of attack in Piraeus harbor, with many of the athletes actually being based offshore. But they have extreme security. It's going to be a very interesting laboratory for seeing how effective security actually is. The fact that the European soccer championship in Portugal is going so well shows the effect of good security in deterring terrorist attacks.
Mathematical models assume rational actors making rational decisions. Does that apply to terrorists?
We know that people like [Ayman] al-Zawahiri, the Qaeda strategist, are brilliant. We know from modern brain research that when we're faced with a moral dilemma, it's the rational part of the brain making the decision while the emotional part is disengaged. These people are being entirely rational in optimizing their own particular objectives. And their extremism, their absolutism in reaching their goals, actually makes it easier to use these mathematical models. There is no maybe in the mind of the terrorist.
The Last Word: Calculus for Catastrophe
July 5, 2004

State considers new approach to teaching math

Georgia education officials are considering a new approach to teaching math that would combine concepts from courses in algebra, geometry and trigonometry.
If adopted, the new curriculum would require students to understand more complicated concepts at younger ages, a shift that would begin as early as kindergarten. It is part of an extensive rewrite of teaching standards in Georgia.
The new approach is being hailed by many academics as an ambitious attempt to correct a problem that has persisted for years: teaching that focuses on mechanics but has been lacking in deeper understanding.
By the end of eighth grade, students will be expected to know most of geometry and algebra - subjects now taught mainly in high school. The integrated math planned for high school is unusual in the United States but common in Japan, a country where students routinely score near the top on international exams.
If approved by the state Board of Education this week, the changes would be introduced over several years.
State considers new approach to teaching math
July 5, 2004

Enzyme By Design

Chemical & Engineering News
The true test of understanding a reaction is creating an enzyme from scratch to catalyze it. Biochemists at Duke University Medical Center now have shown that they can turn a protein having no catalytic activity into an enzyme that speeds up a reaction that is unrelated to the protein's original function.
Through a combination of computational design and directed evolution, biochemistry professor Homme W. Hellinga, working with graduate students Mary A. Dwyer and Loren L. Looger, turned the receptor ribose-binding protein (RBP) into an enzyme that mimics the natural enzyme triose phosphate isomerase (TIM) [Science, 304, 1967 (2004)].
"This is one of the very first times that we have been able to design, essentially from first principles, an enzymatic reaction using structure-based design," Hellinga says. "You can dial in a particular reaction mechanism and turn a protein that normally doesn't do anything into a little enzyme."
he two main challenges in designing the enzyme were describing the problem and solving the resulting combinatorial search problem. The "description problem" involves "capturing the essential elements of the reaction mechanism," Hellinga says. Such descriptions include the type of reaction, the transition state, the geometry of the reaction, and ways to stabilize the transition state.
The Duke researchers converted that description into algorithms that introduce mutations in the three-dimensional protein structure. They needed to specify the amino acid residues involved in the catalysis and to identify mutations that would facilitate interaction with the substrate and stabilize the protein.
"When you do these kinds of calculations, you're faced with many different choices," Hellinga says. "In the end, we had 21 or 22 mutations that we played with, which is a huge computational search problem."
In an accompanying commentary [Science, 304, 1916 (2004)], German researchers Reinhard Sterner from the Institute for Biophysics & Physical Biochemistry at the University of Regensburg and Franz X. Schmid of the Laboratory for Biochemistry at the University of Bayreuth write: "The new work by the Hellinga lab exemplifies the enormous power of computational biology and illustrates how this approach can be combined with directed evolution. The latter is well suited to identify beneficial mutations far from the active site. Such mutations are difficult to find by computation but important for the fine-tuning of catalysis."
Enzyme By Design
July 5, 2004

Drury students go into zero gravity
By Wes Johnson
They'll try their best not to throw up on their experiment.
But there's no guarantee that won't happen when four Drury University physics students take a wild ride aboard a NASA jet to test their orientation ratchet in weightless conditions.
"It's not really a concern," said team member Daniel Ratchford, a junior from Webb City, "but I'll probably do it — spew everywhere."
He and team members Allison Harris, James Stockton and Jeremy Woolery will experience a total of about 15 minutes of weightlessness aboard NASA's "Vomit Comet" during two flights over Texas on July 15 and 16.
The four-engine KC-135 jet flies 25 to 30 roller-coaster "parabolas," each giving about 30 seconds of weightlessness.
"I'm sure the jet is aptly named," said Stockton, a senior from Kimberling City.
But a weightless environment is needed to test the orientation ratchet, brainchild of Drury physics professor Greg Ojakangas.
The device uses weighted, extendable arms that open and close in sequence, causing the entire contraption to rotate without continuing to spin.
The concept could lead to a new way to orient satellites and spacecraft floating in zero gravity.
Ojakangas said he was inspired by a falling cat's ability to always land on its feet.
While falling, a cat twists parts of its body while alternately extending and contracting its front and rear legs.
The movement produces a "net rotation" that puts the cat's feet safely beneath it every time.
Drury students go into zero gravity
July 5, 2004

Programming doesn't begin to define computer science

By Jim Morris
The tech meltdown affecting computer jobs as well as stock prices, and the stories about off-shoring of programming jobs, have caused a decline in computer science enrollments at colleges and universities across the country. This wouldn't happen if people understood the real goals of computer science.
It's not just about money. Portraying computer science as a path to getting rich is wrong and contributes to the boom-bust pattern. There was also a boom and bust in the 1980s following the introduction of the IBM PC. At first people thought PCs would give everyone a job; then they found out hard work was involved.
Computer science is faced with scientific challenges that rival any in history, yet are relevant to practical problems of today. Computer science involves questions that have the potential to change how we view the world.
For example: What is the nature of intelligence, and can we reproduce it in a machine? To further explore outer space, we must create intelligent robots that can act for long periods without human intervention.
Or, how can one predict the performance of a complex system? Computer systems are some of the most complex things that humans have created. Their behavior can be as surprising as such things as the U.S. economy or the weather.
Or, what is the nature of human cognition, and how can this allow us to design machines that help us make sense out of the billions of megabytes of data on the Internet? The current method of using Google and clicking around is limited by the speed of human thought.
Or, does the natural world "compute"? The workings of DNA and biological cells can be viewed as information processes. Can there be a computer based on quantum effects?
What's really going on? The methods of empirical science are a crucial component of an education. The ability to discern a real phenomenon and distinguish it from myth or opinion is vital. The study of human-computer interaction can teach experimental technique.
How does computing fit into the world? The computer is becoming the interface between people and their world. Computer scientists must know enough history and social science to chart and predict the impact of computers on the intersecting worlds of work, entertainment and society. To do this, they must understand the modern world and its roots. To participate in today's debates about privacy, one must understand both computers and society.
Some computer science should be taught long before college. Because computing is a very new science, it has not trickled down to its proper educational level. In high school, it is second-class compared with biology, physics and chemistry. In major high school science competitions, such as the Siemens-Westinghouse Science and Technology Competition, the numbers of computer science entrants in regional and national finals are dwindling as projects in biology and physics drown them out.
What passes for computer science in the high school curriculum is just training in computer programming that does not teach the visions and grand challenges of computer science. Computer science is not about a device but about ideas crucial to the next millennium.
As programmed digital devices continue to shrink in size and cost, the computer per se will disappear, just as the electric motor disappeared into hundreds of niches in our homes and automobiles. But the science will only grow in importance.
Programming doesn't begin to define computer science
July 3, 2004

Maths formula to buy a perfect seat in a movie theater!
Want to have the best look at your favourite movie stars without spraining your neck? Well, all you have to do is to learn maths!
A Canadian mathematician claims to have developed a method to calculate the best place to sit in a movie theater.
Berry, a professor of mathematics at the University of Manitoba in Canada, has devised a method which can help you get rid of any eye or neck strain when you go to watch a movie as well as get a best view.
He uses his math classes to show high school students that how the problem of finding seats with the best views in a movie house, can be solved using the subject.
Berry uses calculus and high-level geometry and numerous equations to derive a perfect seating formula.
Berry can calculate the best line of sight to the top, bottom, and both sides of the screen, taking into account factors like the height of the screen, the height of the wall between the floor and the bottom of the screen and the slope of the floor of the seating area.
"If you can give me some hard numbers for dimensions and distances, I can calculate the exact spot that is best for viewing a movie" he said.
" It's not the kind of calculations you can do easily or in a hurry,but it does show that math can be applied in all aspects of life. It's really just first-year calculus, and not all that complicated," he added.
Maths formula to buy a perfect seat in a movie theater!
July 3, 2004

Mathematical models predict a win for Bush

WASHINGTON - Polls may show the presidential race in a dead heat, but for a small band of academics who use scientific formulas to predict elections, President George W. Bush is on his way to a sizeable win.
That's the conclusion of a handful of political scientists who, with mixed results, have honed the art of election forecasting by devising elaborate mathematical formulas based on key measures of the nation's economic health and the public's political views.
Most of these academics are predicting Mr Bush, bolstered by robust economic growth, will win between 53 and 58 per cent of the votes cast for him and his Democratic opponent John Kerry.
Their track record for calling election outcomes months in advance has often been surprisingly accurate.
In 1988, the models projected that Mr Bush's father, former president George Bush, would win even though Mr Michael Dukakis enjoyed a double-digit poll lead that summer.
And in 1996, one model came within a tenth of a percentage point of Mr Bill Clinton's actual vote share.
All the models assume the candidates will run reasonably competent campaigns, said Professor Thomas Holbrook of the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.
However, the underlying logic of the models is that each presidential election is a referendum on the party in power, and day-to-day campaign tactics or candidate personalities matter less than the general direction of the economy and voters' partisan inclinations, Mr Mann said.
There is also what Emory University Professor Alan Abramowitz calls the 'time for change' factor.
The models dock a party if it is seeking a third consecutive term in the White House on the premise that voters who might otherwise support the incumbent party may want a change in leadership after eight or more years.
On the other hand, the party in the White House usually has a favourable outcome after one term, a complex calculation that works in Mr Bush's favour. -- Reuters
Mathematical models predict a win for Bush
July 3, 2004

Learners Must Enjoy Maths, Says Pandor
Shadi Baloyi
Education Minister Naledi Pandor says there is a need to inculcate a new perception of mathematics among learners as a "cool" subject essential for success in many sectors of the economy.
Minister Pandor said she knew from worldwide research that maths graduates were more certain to be employed and earn more or develop careers that would allow them to be independent entrepreneurs.
She said the education department would pay attention to previously ignored areas and marginalised communities, as it was necessary to improve learners' achievements there.
The minister yesterday opened the Association For Mathematics Education of South Africa (AMESA) Conference.
She told delegates at the conference that her aim was to facilitate suitable conditions in which all children, especially those born in disadvantaged communities, realise their full potential.
"I have no intention of chasing shadows at the margins of our education system. I intend operating right at the centre, where our intervention will matter most," she said.
"In this regard, I shall be paying very close attention to previously ignored areas that are necessary for improving the achievements of all pupils, but especially those pupils from those previously marginalised communities," she promised.
" These [previously ignored areas] include mathematics, science and technology education, improved teaching of indigenous languages, and improved teaching of English as a second language - the language issue is a seamless one," she said.
Minister Pandor added that at tertiary and higher education levels, government provided bursaries for students wishing to become Science and Mathematics teachers through the National Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).
"We hope that the NSFAS funding will attract a greater number of Mathematics and Science graduates to make teaching their first choice career," said the minister.
Learners Must Enjoy Maths, Says Pandor
July 2, 2004

Perendev is Tooling Up for Magnetic Motor Mass Production in Europe

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA (PRWEB) July 2, 2004 -- For centuries, inventors have been claiming to come up with magnetic motor designs that use nothing more than the power of permanent magnets for the motive force; and for the same amount of time, mainstream science has responded that this is impossible. "It has been proven mathematically that no combination of permanent magnets in any arrangement will generate power."
History tells us that what has been proven in many people's back yards and garages does not always coincide with mathematics. Refusing to be daunted by what he considers to be petty dogmas of academic science, inventor Michael J. Brady of Johannesburg not only claims to have produced such a device, but reports that his company, Perendev Power Developments Pty (Ltd) is now in process of manufacturing it on a large scale for markets in Europe, Russia, and Australia.
Perendev's new website was published recently at with the assertion that they have achieved the milestone of producing "the world's first fuelless magnetic engine."
A German company has licensed the manufacturing and marketing rights for all of Europe and Russia, excluding the U.K., and is in process of tooling up to begin mass production. Two other groups are in process of negotiating licensing terms with from Perendev. One is in the U.K., for rights to manufacture and market in the U.K., and the other is in Australia, for rights down under.
Brady brought a prototype to the Germans in mid March, and said they have been testing it since that time. The prototype has been undergoing testing by TUFF, a German consumer quality control agency.
The name of the German company will be revealed when they have finished tooling up and are ready to begin production, which Brady estimates will take place in a month or two. He said that these units will be consumer ready for application in home use, pending the stamp of approval from TUFF. Brady also plans to allow German television crews to document the device for public view.
Twenty kilowatts is adequate to handle the peak load of most homes. Ran continuously at that rate, the excess produced during average use, which is five percent of peak use, could be sold to the grid for a quick return on investment. It will put out quite a bit more than twenty kilowatts, said Brady. "That is what it is rated to produce continuously."
In May he reported to have tested the unit with a larger alternator rated at 60 kw "with very little degrading of the motor's performance."
Brady has been churning on this idea for thirty years, and actively developing it for approximately the last five.
Perendev is Tooling Up for Magnetic Motor Mass Production in Europe
July 1, 2004

Not the usual channels
ON JULY 1st, a spacecraft called Cassini went into orbit around Saturn—the first probe to visit the planet since 1981. While the rockets that got it there are surely impressive, just as impressive, and much neglected, is the communications technology that will allow it to transmit its pictures millions of kilometres back to Earth with antennae that use little more power than a light-bulb.
To perform this transmission through the noisy vacuum of space, Cassini employs what are known as error-correcting codes. These contain internal tricks that allow the receiver to determine whether what has been received is accurate and, ideally, to reconstruct the correct version if it is not.
Turbo coding takes one of the techniques deployed on Cassini—known as convolution coding—and doubles it. Convolutional codes work by adding some of the bits (the ones and zeros of binary arithmetic) from a block of data, and transmitting that sum alongside the raw data. The decoder then works backwards, to make sure the sums add up correctly. If they do not, it knows there has been a mistake and fiddles with the appropriate bits to try to correct the errors. Unfortunately, it does not always succeed.
What Dr Glavieux and Dr Berrou showed was that combining two convolutional codes would yield a dramatic improvement in performance—one that would go almost all the way to the Shannon limit. To do this, you have to shuffle the bits in each block of data at random. Each block is then broadcast twice—once unshuffled and once shuffled. One convolutional decoder works on the unshuffled data, and the other on the shuffled data. The shuffling means that an error which affects one block will not affect the other at the same place in the sequence.
LDPC codes also work on large blocks of data, but each batch is then encoded using a mathematical technique known as matrix algebra. This involves "multiplying" a block of bits by an array of different bits known as a matrix, and then transmitting the resulting bits.
The matrices used in LDPC coding are a type known as sparse matrices, in which almost all of the entries in the array are zero, rather than one. Because the few non-zero entries in a sparse array tend to be far apart, the process of matrix multiplication means that the resulting blocks of code end up looking different from one another, even if the starting data are similar. This, in turn, means that LDPC codes can tolerate large numbers of errors and still detect where the mistakes are. Furthermore, according to David MacKay of Cambridge University, who is one of the pioneers of the new generation of LDPC codes, after a few mathematical tweaks dreamt up in the late 1990s, these codes now outperform turbo codes, and are computationally simpler to implement.
This, according to Dr MacKay, is why they have been adopted in the next-generation standard for satellite television, which is being hammered out by the regulators at the European Telecommunications Standards Institute over the next few months. They are also being incorporated into standards for so-called 4G mobile telephones, which will, if all goes well, be introduced around 2010. These phones would be able to handle as many as a billion bits a second. At that rate it would only take a few seconds to download an entire movie. Perhaps the next probe to go to Saturn will send back live video to the world's mobile phones.
Not the usual channels
July 1, 2004

Investigating digital images

"Seeing is no longer believing. Actually, what you see is largely irrelevant," says Dartmouth Professor Hany Farid. He is referring to the digital images that appear everywhere: in newspapers, on Web sites, in advertising, and in business materials, for example.
Farid and Dartmouth graduate student Alin Popescu have developed a mathematical technique to tell the difference between a "real" image and one that's been fiddled with. Consider a photo of two competing CEOs talking over a document labeled "confidential – merger," or a photo of Saddam Hussein shaking hands with Osama bin Laden. The Dartmouth algorithm, presented recently at the 6th International Workshop on Information Hiding, in Toronto, Canada, can determine if someone has manipulated the photos, like blending two photos into one, or adding or taking away objects or people in an image.
"Commercially available software makes it easy to alter digital photos," says Farid, an Associate Professor of Computer Science. "Sometimes this seemingly harmless talent is used to influence public opinion and trust, especially when altered photos are used in news reports."
Photos have been altered in the past, from airbrushing in fashion magazines, to aliens in tabloid newspapers, to giant lizards in the movies, but computers make it easier for more and more people to manipulate images. Farid explains that "regular" photos are hard to change without special expertise in altering negatives or dark room privileges that would allow someone to influence the printing process.
However, once images have been digitized, translated into the computer language of ones and zeros, it's easier to manipulate them.
A digital image is a collection of pixels or dots, and each pixel contains numbers that correspond to a color or brightness value. When marrying two images to make one convincing composite, you have to alter pixels. They have to be stretched, shaded, twisted, and otherwise changed. The end result is, more often than not, a realistic, believable image.
"With today's technology, it's not easy to look at an image these days and decide if it's real or not," says Farid. "We look, however, at the underlying code of the image for clues of tampering."
Farid's algorithm looks for the evidence inevitably left behind after image tinkering. Statistical clues lurk in all digital images, and the ones that have been tampered with contain altered statistics.
"Natural digital photographs aren't random," he says. "In the same way that placing a monkey in front of a typewriter is unlikely to produce a play by Shakespeare, a random set of pixels thrown on a page is unlikely to yield a natural image. It means that there are underlying statistics and regularities in naturally occurring images."
Farid and his students have built a statistical model that captures the mathematical regularities inherent in natural images. Because these statistics fundamentally change when images are altered, the model can be used to detect digital tampering.
Investigating digital images
July 1, 2004

Digital evolution reveals the many ways to get to diversity
EAST LANSING, Mich. – In finding an answer to "perhaps the greatest unsolved ecological riddle," evolutionists propose that diversity is a testament to there being more than one way to make a living.
The riddle: Why are some habitats loaded with many more species than others?
The answer: Nature and evolution respect that there's more than one way of doing things.
What we've learned," said Michigan State University scientist Charles Ofria, "is that if there isn't just one way to succeed, you'll see diversity.
In an article published in the July 2 issue of Science, an interdisciplinary team of scientists at MSU, the California Institute of Technology and Keck Graduate Institute (KGI), with the help of powerful computers, has used a kind of artificial life, or ALife, to gain insight into questions of evolution.
Up to a point, organisms that are overachievers at what they do to survive – consume resources – will find there's a ceiling to their good performance. Once they run low on resources, their ability to dominate loses steam and other hard-working organisms have a chance to get a foothold in the habitat.
Ofria, an MSU assistant professor of computer science and engineering and one of the paper's authors, gives the example of an ambitious organism that eats glucose, a type of sugar. That organism is a glucose-eating machine, and the more it eats, the more it reproduces and dominates. But eventually, there are so many hungry organisms, and glucose starts to run out, so the population's growth slows.
Meanwhile, he said, mutant fructose-eating organisms, which maybe aren't quite so vociferous, haven't run out of food. While their greedy neighbors are suffering from glucose famine, they are able to thrive and gain a foothold.
We show why more than one species can exist in a place, Ofria said."We've found that in a place where resources are finite, there are limiting effects of productivity.
The Alife program, called Avida, is basically an artificial petri dish in which organisms not only reproduce, but also perform mathematical calculations to obtain rewards. Rather than sugar, their reward is more computer time that they can use for making copies of themselves. The digital organisms come in different "species" – identifiable by the mathematical functions they perform.
Avida randomly adds mutations to the copies, thus spurring natural selection and evolution. The research team watches how the bugs adapt and evolve in different environments inside their artificial world.
Avida is the biologist's souped-up race car. To watch the evolution of most living organisms would require thousands of years – without blinking. The digital bugs evolve at lightning speed, and they leave tracks for scientists to study.
"These experiments allow us to look at long-standing questions in ecology, such as why certain environments support more species than others," said Richard Lenski, MSU Hannah Distinguished Professor of microbial ecology and a co-author. "With Avida, we could look at changes in species diversity across thousands of generations, and see how the ecological relationship between environmental productivity and species diversity could be understood from an evolutionary perspective."
Ofria points out that the evolutionary scenarios can be seen in the real world. Environments that are harsh and short on resources – like the arctic tundra or a desert – have comparatively little species diversity, not surprisingly perhaps. Unexpectedly, however, some natural environments that have a lot of resources support fewer species than environments that have more modest productivity, a surprising pattern that is also seen in the digital world.
The research seeks to answer questions of evolution that are a piece of the puzzle of understanding ecology.
"The better we understand how our world came about, we can begin to understand how to deal with it," Ofria said. "Diversity is important to understand."
In addition to Lenski and Ofria, the team consists of Stephanie Chow, graduate student in Computational & Neural Science at Caltech; Claus Wilke, research assistant professor at KGI; and Christoph Adami, professor of applied life sciences at KGI.
The research is funded by the National Science Foundation under its biocomplexity initiative, with additional funding from the MSU Foundation and KGI.
Digital evolution reveals the many ways to get to diversity