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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

The real charm of imaginary numbers

Few elementary mathematical ideas arouse the kind of curiosity and astonishment among the uninitiated as does the idea of the “imaginary numbers”, an idea embodied in the somewhat mysterious number i. This symbol is used to denote the idea of , namely, a number that when multiplied by itself yields -1. How come?

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Diamonds are forever, and so are mathematical truths?

Try googling ‘mathematical gem’. I just got 465,000 results. Quite a lot. Indeed, the metaphor of mathematical ideas as precious little gems is an old one, and it is well known to anyone with a zest for mathematics. A diamond is a little, fully transparent structure all of whose parts can be observed with awe from any angle.

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Yes, maths can be for the amateur too

A friend of mine picked an argument with me the other day about how people go on about the beauty of mathematics, but this is not only not obvious to non-mathematicians, it cannot be accessed by those outside the field. Unlike, for example, the modern art, which is also not always obvious, mathematical beauty is elusive to all but the mathematicians. Or so he said.

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Sects, witches, and wizards-from Pythagoreans to Kepler

To start a conversation based on mathematics may seem to some to be one of the tasks inevitably converging towards the plot-line of Mission Impossible. Well, certainly there are more pressing things that would occupy people’s minds, concerning international politics, the future of Europe, and the future of the Middle East. What’s new?

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Will we ever need maths after school?

What is the purpose of mathematics? Or, as many a pupil would ask the teacher on a daily basis: “When are we going to need this?” There is a considerably ruder version of a question posed by Billy Connolly on the internet, but let’s not go there.

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Making sense of mathematics

Mathematics is used in increasingly sophisticated ways in modern society, explicitly by experts who develop applications and implicitly by the general public who use technological devices. As each of us is taught a broad curriculum in school and then focuses on particular specialisms in our adult life, it is useful to ask the question ‘what does it mean to make sense of mathematics?’.

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The Erdős number

The idea of six degrees of separation is now quite well known and posits the appealing idea that any two humans on earth are connected by a chain of at most six common acquaintances. In the movie world this idea has become known as the “Bacon number”; for example Elvis Presley has a Bacon number […]

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Putting two and two together

As somebody who loves words and English literature, I have often been assumed to be a natural enemy of the mathematical mind. If we’re being honest, my days of calculus and the hypotenuse are behind me, but with those qualifications under my belt, I did learn that the worlds of words and numbers are not necessarily as separate as they seem. Quite a few expressions use numbers (sixes and sevens, six of one and half a dozen of the other, one of a kind, etc.) but a few are more closely related to mathematics than you’d expect.

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How do we protect ourselves from cybercrime?

Modern society requires a reliable and trustworthy Internet infrastructure. To achieve this goal, cybersecurity research has previously drawn from a multitude of disciplines, including engineering, mathematics, and social sciences, as well as the humanities. Cybersecurity is concerned with the study of the protection of information – stored and processed by computer-based systems – that might be vulnerable to unintended exposure and misuse.

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That’s relativity

A couple of days after seeing Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, I bumped into Sir Roger Penrose. If you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want spoilers, I’m sorry but you’d better stop reading now.
Still with me? Excellent. Some of you may know that Sir Roger developed much of modern black hole theory with his collaborator, Stephen Hawking, and at the heart of Interstellar lies a very unusual black hole. Straightaway, I asked Sir Roger if he’d seen the film. What’s unusual about Gargantua, the black hole in Interstellar, is that it’s scientifically accurate.

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Five tips for women and girls pursuing STEM careers

Many attempts have been made to explain the historic and current lack of women working in STEM fields. During her two years of service as Director of Policy Planning for the U. S. State Department, from 2009 to 2011, Anne-Marie Slaughter suggested a range of strategies for corporate and political environments to help better support women at work. These spanned from social-psychological interventions to the introduction of role models and self-affirmation practices.

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Celebrating women in STEM

It is becoming widely accepted that women have, historically, been underrepresented and often completely written out of work in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Explanations for the gender gap in STEM fields range from genetically-determined interests, structural and territorial segregation, discrimination, and historic stereotypes. With free Oxford University Press content, we tell the stories and share the research of both famous and forgotten women.

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Why causality now?

Head hits cause brain damage, but not always. Should we ban sport to protect athletes? Exposure to electromagnetic fields is strongly associated with cancer development. Should we ban mobile phones and encourage old-fashioned wired communication? The sciences are getting more and more specialized and it is difficult to judge whether, say, we should trust homeopathy, fund a mission to Mars, or install solar panels on our roofs.

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Accusation breeds guilt

One of the central tasks when reading a mystery novel (or sitting on a jury, etc.) is figuring out which of the characters are trustworthy. Someone guilty will of course say they aren’t guilty, just like the innocent – the real question in these situations is whether we believe them. The guilty party – let’s call her Annette – can try to convince us of her trustworthiness by only saying things that are true, insofar as such truthfulness doesn’t incriminate her.

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A very short trivia quiz

In order to celebrate Trivia Day, we have put together a quiz with questions chosen at random from Very Short Introductions online. This is the perfect quiz for those who know a little about a lot. The topics range from Geopolitics to Happiness, and from French Literature to Mathematics. Do you have what it takes to take on this very short trivia quiz and become a trivia master? Take the quiz to find out.

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Celebrating Alan Turing

Alan Mathison Turing (1912-1954) was a mathematician and computer scientist, remembered for his revolutionary Automatic Computing Engine, on which the first personal computer was based, and his crucial role in breaking the ENIGMA code during the Second World War. He continues to be regarded as one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century.

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