Career interview: President of the European Mathematical Society

October 31, 2012 in formulas, mathematics, news

Marianne Freiberger on

Plus first encountered Marta Sanz-Solé at a drinks reception, giving exactly the kind of speech you want while you’re sipping wine and nibbling canapés: short and funny. Her audience were mathematicians attending the 6th European Congress of Mathematics, which took place in Krakow in July, and Marta was speaking in her role as the President of the European Mathematical Society (EMS). Definitely a great interview subject, we thought, and we were lucky. Despite an incredibly busy schedule — the EMS organised this 1000-people-strong conference — Marta found time to talk to us about her career as a research mathematician and figurehead of Europe’s representative body for mathematics. (more…)

Understanding the unseen

October 28, 2012 in formulas, physics

Hide and seek: Tracking the Apollo spacecraft was a challenge for NASA scientists.

Adam Kucharski
When NASA first decided to put a man on the Moon, they had a problem. Actually, they had several problems. It was the spring of 1960, and not only had they had never sent a man into space, the Soviet Union had recently won the race to put a satellite in orbit. Then there were the technical issues: the nuts and bolts of how to transport three men 238,900 miles from a launch site in Florida to the Moon – and back again – all before the Soviets beat them to it.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks was estimating the spacecraft’s trajectory: how could NASA send astronauts to the Moon if they didn’t know where they were? Researchers at NASA’s Dynamics Analysis Branch in California had already been working on the problem for several months, with limited success. Fortunately for the Apollo programme that was about to change. (more…)

The travelling salesman

October 27, 2012 in formulas, news

Marianne Freiberger,

On the 20th of November 2012 the Centre for Mathematical Sciences in Cambridge will be hosting the first UK screening of Travelling Salesman, an intellectual thriller imagining the consequences of solving the P vs NP problem (buy tickets here). Here you can find out what this problem is all about.

Get cash from the cash point, go to the supermarket, pick up kids from school and prescription from doctor. In what order should you do these things so that the distance you’ve got to drive is as short as possible? Not a particularly exciting problem, you might think, but it’s one that fascinates mathematicians. That’s because in general it’s very hard to solve and opens the door on one of the trickiest unanswered questions in mathematics.

The problem is called the travelling salesman problem and the general form goes like this: you’ve got a number of places to visit, you’re given the distances between them, and you have to work out the shortest route that visits every place exactly once and returns to where you started. If it’s a small number of places, you can find the answer quite easily simply by looking at all the possible routes. As the number of places grows, this becomes incredibly tedious. Is there a better method for doing this, an algorithm, that can give you an answer in a reasonable amount of time even if the number of places is huge? (more…)

Scholars ponder better ways to elect a president

October 26, 2012 in formulas, news

National popular vote, alternate voting methods debated at MIT conference.
Peter Dizikes, MIT News Office

The upcoming presidential election appears to be so close that either President Barack Obama or his challenger, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, could lose the popular vote, yet still gain the White House by winning a majority of Electoral College votes.

With this in mind, should the United States choose its president through the Electoral College, as it does now, or through another method, such as a national popular vote? And how should people be allowed to register and vote? Those questions formed the dual focal points of a spirited conference on election systems held at MIT on Friday, Oct. 19. (more…)

2013 Anno Archimedeo

October 25, 2012 in formulas, mathematics

Premio Archimede 2013

Nel 2013, in occasione del 2300-esimo anniversario della nascita di Archimede, l’UMI intende promuovere la conoscenza e l’attualizzazione del suo pensiero e della sua straordinaria figura di matematico, scienziato ed ingegnere, in grado di coniugare ricerca pura di altissima qualità e applicazioni di concretissima efficacia, nello spirito così sintetizzato da Attilio Frajese: Potremmo dire che Archimede sia non (more…)

Shapley and Roth Win Nobel Prize

October 24, 2012 in formulas, news

Lloyd S. Shapley (pictured), professor emeritus of economics and mathematics at UCLA, and Alvin E. Roth, Harvard Business School, have been awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize in Economics “for the theory of stable allocations and the practice of market design.” An allocation, or matching, between two sets is called stable if no other allocation exists in which both elements of a match are better off. In 1962 Shapley and David Gale showed that if the two sets have an equal number of elements then a stable match exists and gave an algorithm, the Gale-Shapley algorithm, to find the match. Read more about the work of the prize winners, and about matching problems in two AMS Feature Columns by Joe Malkevitch: “School Choice” and “Mathematical Marriages.”  (more…)