Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Prime numbers and how to find them

Prime numbers have now become a crucial part of modern life, but they have been fascinating mathematicians for thousands of years. A prime number is always bigger than 1 and can only be divided by itself and 1 – no other number will divide in to it. So the number 2 is the first prime number, then 3, 5, 7, and so on. Non-prime numbers are defined as composite numbers (they are composed of other smaller numbers).

Read More

Opening the door for the next Ramanujan

It is still possible to learn mathematics to a high standard at a British university but there is no doubt that the fun and satisfaction the subject affords to those who naturally enjoy it has taken a hit. Students are constantly reminded about the lifelong debts they are incurring and how they need to be thoroughly aware of the demands of their future employers. The fretting over this within universities is relentless.

Read More

The historian and the longitude

If a social conversation turns to the history of navigation – a turn that is not so unusual as once it was – the most likely episode to be mentioned is the search for a longitude method in the 18th century and the story of John Harrison. The extraordinary success of the book by Dava Sobel has popularised a view of Harrison as a doughty and virtuous fighter, unfairly disadvantaged by the scientific establishment.

Read More

In defense of mathematics [excerpt]

Once reframed in its historical context, mathematics quickly loses its intimidating status. As a subject innately tied to culture, art, and philosophy, the study of mathematics leads to a clearer understanding of human culture and the world in which we live. In this shortened excerpt from A Brief History of Mathematical Thought, Luke Heaton discusses the reputation of mathematics and its significance to human life.

Read More

Alan Turing’s lost notebook

Alan Turing’s personal mathematical notebook went on display a few days ago at Bletchley Park near London, the European headquarters of the Allied codebreaking operation in World War II. Until now, the notebook has been seen by few — not even scholars specializing in Turing’s work. It is on loan from its current owner, who acquired it in 2015 at a New York auction for over one million dollars.

Read More

Really big numbers

What is the biggest whole number that you can write down or describe uniquely? Well, there isn’t one, if we allow ourselves to idealize a bit. Just write down “1”, then “2”, then… you’ll never find a last one.

Read More

A person-less variant of the Bernadete paradox

Before looking at the person-less variant of the Bernedete paradox, lets review the original: Imagine that Alice is walking towards a point – call it A – and will continue walking past A unless something prevents her from progressing further.

Read More

Is elementary school mathematics “real” mathematics?

When people think of elementary school mathematics, they usually bring to mind number facts, calculations, and algorithms. This isn’t surprising, as these topics tend to dominate classroom work in many elementary schools internationally. There is little doubt that elementary students should know the multiplication tables, be able to do simple calculations mentally, develop fluency in using algorithms to carry out more complex calculations

Read More

Measuring up

My first degree was in mathematics, where I specialised in mathematical physics. That meant studying notions of mass, weight, length, time, and so on. After that, I took a master’s and a PhD in statistics. Those eventually led to me spending 11 years working at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, where the central disciplines were medicine and psychology. Like physics, both medicine and psychology are based on measurements.

Read More

Very short facts about the Very Short Introductions

This week we are celebrating the 500th title in the Very Short Introductions series, Measurement: A Very Short Introduction, which will publish on 6th October. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make often challenging topics highly readable. To mark its publication editors Andrea Keegan and Jenny Nugee have put together a list of Very Short Facts about the series.

Read More

Just because all philosophers are on Twitter…

Just because everyone is on Twitter doesn’t mean they’ve all got interesting things to say. I vaguely recall reading that late 19th-century curmudgeons expressed similar scepticism about the then much-hyped technology of the telephone.

Read More

Teaching teamwork

The capacity to work in teams is a vital skill that undergraduate and graduate students need to learn in order to succeed in their professional careers and personal lives. While teamwork is often part of the curriculum in elementary and secondary schools, undergraduate and graduate education is often directed at individual effort and testing that emphasizes solitary performance.

Read More

What is combinatorics?

The subject of combinatorial analysis or combinatorics (pronounced com-bin-a-TOR-ics) is concerned with such questions. We may loosely describe it as the branch of mathematics concerned with selecting, arranging, constructing, classifying, and counting or listing things.

Read More

A brief history of crystallography

So, what is crystallography? Put simply, it is the study of crystals. Now, let’s be careful here. I am not talking about all those silly websites advertising ways in which crystals act as magical healing agents, with their chakras, auras and energy levels. No, this is a serious scientific subject, with around 26 or so Nobel prizes to its credit. And yet, despite this, it remains a largely hidden subject, at least in the public mind.

Read More

Today’s Forecast: Cloudy with a chance of seizures

For people suffering from recurrent epileptic seizures, one of the most burdensome aspects of their condition is the unpredictability of their seizures. While medications, surgery, and novel neurostimulation methods can eliminate seizures seizures in some cases, many people with epilepsy face the possibility of a seizure at any time, even when they occur only rarely.

Read More

Doing it with sensitivity

I’m sure you’ve had this experience. You want to get somewhere, say a concert, or a public building, and all the people are stopped by security officials, who ask to search your bag. They open it, maybe take out one or two items, then glance around inside the rest, before giving it back to you and letting you go.

Read More