Image of the Week #127

A very spiral region of the twisted Mandelbrot.

IOTW

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Using Math as Rocket Fuel

topThe European Space Agency is running humanity’s third mission to the planet Mercury, arriving in 2025. The mission is named after Giuseppe Colombo. This gentleman is shown in the picture above and, in spite of his stern demeanor, his nickname is “Bepi”, explaining the probe’s name. This is in honor of his work on the Mariner 10 mission where he worked out the details of using math in place of rocket fuel.

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A Core Discipline of Math

topOccupy Math was both pleased and startled when a recent post entitled Math is not Science! received a large number of views. The post did not manage, however, to explain very much about what math is. Mathematicians debate this quite a bit and our working definition is the very unhelpful “Math is what mathematicians do.” Bah! Humbug! In this post Occupy Math will give a demonstration of something we agree is the core of mathematics: proof.

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Statistical Hi-jinks

topAn earlier Occupy Math, Why Top Journals Are More Likely to be Wrong, dealt with abuse of statistics. One of the more popular earlier blogs, Math is not a Form of Ritual Magic dealt with the need to understand underlying principles, rather than just learning numerical rituals to solve problems that show up on standardized tests. This week’s post looks at another problem: for many working scientists, statistics is a form of ritual magic, and science suffers as a result. This can lead to health studies that recommend giving up chocolate (when it has not actually been shown to be harmful) for example.

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A Very Basic Programming Activity

calcfaceThis week Occupy Math has another activity post, this one is not only a pretty good puzzle, it uses the kind of thinking you use to learn programming. It can be used in grades 2-12, though what is emphasized will be different at different grade levels. Here’s how the game works. You work with a simple calculator with a display window and a memory, like the one shown above (but on paper, at least until an app it built). There are only three keys that do the following:

  • Load one” puts a one in the display.
  • Save” writes the display to the memory.
  • Add” adds the contents of the memory to the display.

You start with a number on the screen (and zero in memory). There is a target number N. The puzzle is to generate N, from the starting number, using the calculator. For example, “Starting with the number 2, generate the number 31” can be done this way:

example

This example shows how to work these puzzles on paper.

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Pulsars, Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, and Pioneer

plaque

The image above depicts a plaque that was attached to the Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 space probes sent out in the early 1970s. The idea was that someone who found the plaque later would be able to get an idea of who sent the space probe out and where they were. In case you’re wondering about the nude character studies, this is what a NASA committee thought would be the most appropriate picture of our species. Occupy Math is happy that they included a woman at all. It is the “location function” of the plaque that inspired today’s post, but we also have an inappropriate Nobel prize and a type of stellar monster to talk about. Interested? Read on!

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