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No man is an island
Economists reveal that your neighbours significantly impact on
Play the quantum lottery
How to win with quantum uncertainty.
Plus ... more news from the world of maths in the Plus blog
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The world's largest experiment
Scientists are currently building the largest machine in the world in order to
understand the smallest fragments of our universe. Their insights will throw
light on some of the biggest questions there are - how did the universe start,
what is it made of, and how will it end? The machine is the Large Hadron
Collider (LHC) and it is buried up to 175m below ground in a huge circular
tunnel close to Geneva. To prepare for its inauguration at the end of this
year, the Science Museum has put on a special exhibition entitled "Big Bang".
The accompanying website tells you all you need to know about the collider and
the science behind it. It's accessible for everyone from school age onwards, no
previous knowledge required.
You can also read about LHC in the Plus article "Secrets of the universe":
Henry Whitehead - Born: 11th of November 1904 in Madras, India
Died: 8th of May 1960 in Princeton, New Jersey, USA
"He would have been more successful in mathematics if he had been less so at
cricket," is what Whitehead's maths teacher wrote about him on his graduation
from Eton. Once at Oxford, to which he'd nevertheless gained entry, Whitehead's
distraction diversified to include squash, tennis, boxing and poker, at which
he reportedly staked large sums of money. Worse, Whitehead did not even seem to
want to become a mathematician at first, instead he joined a stockbrokers firm
in London on completion of his degree.
But luckily, all turned out well for maths in the end. Working in the City
wasn't to Whitehead's taste, and after a detour to Oxford he enrolled for a PhD
at Princeton in the US. Here he began to work on two areas which benefitted
greatly from his contributions: topology and differential geometry. Both
differential geometry and topology deal with surfaces like the sphere or the
torus, or their higher dimensional analogues. While differential geometry looks
at rigid properties that depend on a metric, for example the curvature of a
surface, in topology metric properties are irrelevant. Topologists regard two
objects as being the same if you can deform one into the other without tearing.
The famous example is that a coffee cup and a doughnut are topologically
Whitehead contributed two major works to differential geometry, now considered
classics. In topology he is best remembered for his work on "homotopy
equivalence", a central notion when it comes to pinning down whether two
objects are topologically equivalent. Notably, Whitehead spent quite some time
working on the now famous Poincare conjecture and even thought that he had
found a proof. However, an inconspicuous pair of interlinked circles, now
known as the "Whitehead link", gave rise to a structure that Whitehead had
assumed not to exist. This toppled his proof and the Poincare conjecture
was to remain open for another 70 years.
Whitehead also contributed to maths in another, less theoretical way. The
percecution of Jews in Nazi Germany troubled him greatly, and he helped a
number of eminent mathematicians to escape, including Erwin Schroedinger, one
of the founders of quantum mechanics.
Had Whitehead not died suddenly of a heart attack at only 56, he certainly
would have gone on to contribute even more.
You can read more ...
...about Henry Whitehead on MacTutor:
...about topology in Plus:
...and see a picture of the Whitehead link on Wikipedia:
Twisting, Coiling, Knotting: Maths and DNA Replication
The proportions of a DNA molecule in a human cell are equivalent to a
2000-mile-long rope packed inside the Millennium Dome. When DNA replicates, it
spins at an astonishing 10 turns per second. Therefore, it is hardly surprising
that DNA can become highly twisted, super-coiled and even knotted! To
understand this phenomenon, the molecular biologist must grapple with the
mathematical concepts of twisting, writhing and knotting. In this
highly-illustrated talk Professor Michael Thompson FRS will experiment with
strings and rubber bands (bring your own!) to explore the geometrical rules
which underlie the transmission our genetic code.
When: Thursday 24th of May 2007, 5pm - 6pm
Where: Centre for Mathematical Sciences, Clarkson Road, Cambridge CB3 0WA
Tickets are free but must be booked by emailing [log in to unmask]
More information: http://mmp.maths.org/events/eventlist.php
The Big Bang at the Science Museum
As mentioned above, the Science Museum has put on an exhibition in honour of
the Large Hadron Collider. The exhibition is free and will run until the 7th of
Where: The Science Museum, Exhibition Road, London, SW7 2DD. More information:
Dinner@Dana: Back to the Big Bang
Also in honour of the Large Hadron Collider, the Dana Centre is holding an
evening dinner and discussion attended by the expert James Gillies from CERN.
There'll be slide shows and photographs and a two-course meal inspired by
When: 15th of May 2007, 6.30pm - 8.30pm
Where: Dana Centre, 165 Queen's Gate, London SW7 5HE
Tickets: £15 per person, including a two-course meal and a drink. Tickets
have to be booked by calling 020 7942 4040 or e-mailing
[log in to unmask]
Age range: this event is open only to those over 18 years of age.
More information: http://www.danacentre.org.uk/events/2007/05/15/260
Superstrings - a Musical Journey through Time and Space
You probably knew that Einstein was a great scientist, but did you also know
that he played the violin? In this unique double act a virtuoso violinist and
the head of the department of particle physics at Oxford University combine the
electricity of a live musical performance with an insight into the deepest
corners of the Universe. The lecture explores Einstein's life, both in
science and in music, from his theories that shaped space and time, to
modern ideas in particle physics.
When: 18th of May 2007 5pm-7pm
Where: Science Oxford, 1-5 London Place, Oxford, OX4 1BD
Tickets: £6.50, £4.50 concession, available from The Oxford Playhouse on
More information: http://www.oxtrust.org.uk/events/282541
Happy reading from the Plus team!
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