Tom Rocks Maths launches into Hilary Term on Oxide Radio – Oxford University’s student radio station – with the continuation of the million-dollar Millennium Problems series, an explanation of how Tom’s PhD research can be used to help clean-up our oceans, and conspiracy theories aplenty with Funbers 11. Plus, music from Kings of Leon, Biffy Clyro and new Found Glory. This is maths, but not as you know it…
Maths, but not as you know it… (St Edmund Hall Oxford Magazine)
Dr Tom Crawford joined the Hall in October 2018 as a Stipendiary Lecturer in Mathematics, but he is far from your usual mathematician…
Tom’s research investigates where river water goes when it enters the ocean. A simple question, you might first think, but the complexity of the interaction between the lighter freshwater and the heavier saltwater, mixed together by the tides and wind, and pushed ‘right’ along the coast due to the Earth’s rotation, is anything but. The motivation for understanding this process comes from recent attempts to clean-up our oceans. Rivers are the main source of pollution in the ocean, and therefore by understanding where freshwater ends up in the ocean, we can identify the area’s most susceptible to pollution and mitigate for its effects accordingly.
To better understand this process, Tom conducts experiments in the lab and has conducted fieldwork expeditions to places as far-flung as Antarctica. What the southern-most continent lacks in rivers, it makes up for in meltwater from its plethora of ice sheets. The ultimate process is the same – lighter freshwater being discharged into a heavier saltwater ocean – and as the most remote location on Earth the influence of humans is at its least.
If you thought that a mathematician performing experiments and taking part in fieldwork expeditions was unusual, then you haven’t seen anything yet. Tom is also very active in outreach and public engagement as the author of the award-winning website tomrocksmaths.com which looks to entertain, excite and educate about all thing’s maths. The key approach to Tom’s work is to make entertaining content that people want to engage with, without necessarily having an active interest in maths. Questions such as ‘how many ping-pong balls would it take to raise the Titanic from the ocean floor?’ and ‘what is the blast radius of an atomic bomb?’ peak your attention and curiosity meaning you have no choice but to click to find out the answer!
Tom is also the creator of the ‘Funbers’ series which was broadcast on BBC Radio throughout 2018 telling you the ‘fun facts you didn’t realise you’ve secretly always wanted to know’ about a different number every week. From the beauty of the ‘Golden Ratio’ to the world’s unluckiest number (is it really 13?) via the murderous tale of ‘Pythagoras’ Constant’, Funbers is a source of endless entertainment for all ages and mathematical abilities alike.
And now for the big finale. If you are familiar with Tom’s work, you may know where we are heading with this, but if not, strap yourself in for the big reveal. Dr Tom Crawford is the man behind the ‘Naked Mathematician’ (yes you did read that correctly). To try to show that maths isn’t as serious as many people believe, to try to engage a new audience with the subject, and just to have fun, Tom regularly gives maths talks in his underwear! His ‘Equations Stripped’ series on YouTube has reached 250,000 views – that’s a quarter of a million people that have engaged with maths that may otherwise have never done so. His recent tour of UK universities saw several thousand students come to a maths lecture of their own accord to learn about fluid dynamics. It may not be to everyone’s tastes, but our current methods of trying to engage people with maths are failing, so why not try something new? This is maths, but not as you know it.
You can find all of Tom’s work on his award-winning website and you can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram @tomrocksmaths for the latest updates.
The original article published in the Aularian magazine can be found here.
Funbers 25, 26 and 27
Fun facts about numbers that you didn’t realise you’ve secretly always wanted to know…
25 – TWENTY-FIVE
You probably know 25 as five squared, 5 x 5 = 25, but I bet you didn’t realise that it’s also the sum of the first five odd numbers: 1 + 3 + 5 + 7 + 9 = 25. It also crops up a lot in Pythagoras’ Theorem (yes, him again — see Funbers root 2) because it’s the smallest square that’s also the sum of another two square numbers: 25 = 3² + 4². Since Pythagoras’ Theorem says that a² + b² = c², we have the exact result with whole numbers (integers) for a = 3, b = 4 and c = 5. A solution such as this, where all of the numbers are integers, is called a Pythagorean Triple.
Looking beyond the maths, most videos are recorded at a frame rate of 25 per second as the PAL video standard – other options are available, but twenty-five does an excellent job of tricking the human brain into seeing a moving picture where in fact only a series of still images are being shown. Less than 25 and we might start to notice the ‘jumps’ between frames, and for more than 25 we’ll need a lot more data to record and store the footage.
Twenty-five is also the average percentage of DNA overlap between yourself and your grandparent, grand-child, aunt, uncle, nephew, half-sibling, double cousin (when siblings from one family have children with siblings from another), or identical twin cousin (if one of your parents is an identical twin and their twin has a child). Oh, and apparently a ‘pony’ is British slang for £25 – news to me…
26 – TWENTY-SIX
With twenty-five being a square number, and (spoiler alert) twenty-seven being a cube number, twenty-six is uniquely placed as the only whole number that’s exactly one greater than a square (5² + 1) and one less than a cube (3³ – 1). Talk about niche. And then there’s the fantastically named rhombicuboctahedron — a shape with 26 faces, made up of squares and triangles. Can you spot how many of each in the figure below?
Twenty-six also gives the number of complete miles in a marathon (26 miles and 385 yards to be exact), the number of letters in the Latin alphabet, and the age at which males can no longer be drafted in the United States. The draft has been used five times throughout history: the American Revolution, the American Civil War, World War 1, World War 2 and the Cold War (including Korea and Vietnam). Let’s hope it never has to be used again.
27 – TWENTY-SEVEN
Now this one’s a real doozy: 27% of our universe is made up of “dark matter” – matter that has mass but is also completely invisible and doesn’t interact with itself or regular matter. The rest of the universe consists of 5% regular matter (the stuff we know about), and the other 68% is completely unknown. Something, something, dark energy…
Sticking with scary thoughts, in Stephen King’s novel ‘It’ (great film by the way) the creature returns to the town of Derry every 27 years, which also happens to be exactly the right amount of time for a new-born baby to join the 27 Club — a term used to refer to popular musicians who have died at the age of 27. Current members include Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse amongst many, many more. We also have 27 books in the New Testament and 27 bones in the human hand.
Ending with some maths — what else — twenty-seven is the only positive whole number that is exactly three times the sum of its digits: 2 + 7 = 9 and 9 x 3 = 27. It’s also a perfect cube, 33 = 3 x 3 x 3 = 27, and it’s equal to the sum of the digits from two to seven, 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 7 = 27. But, leaving the best until last, if you label the decimal places of the number pi, starting from 0, then the 27th and 28th digits read 27. It may seem like magic but it’s actually one of a few ‘self-locating strings’ in the number. The others being 6, 13598, 43611, 24643510, and no doubt many more yet to be discovered. That can be your homework…
π = 3.141592653589793238462643383279…
Image credit: Jonathan Kis-Lev
Funbers 22, 23 and 24
Fun facts about numbers that you didn’t realise you’ve secretly always wanted to know…
22 – TWENTY-TWO
Coming in hot, 22 happens to be one of my favourite numbers – if you divide it by 7 you get about 3.142, which is a handy way of getting close to pi without having to remember all the digits! Then of course there’s Joseph Heller’s famous novel Catch-22. In the book, Catch-22 is the Air Force policy which says that bomber pilots can only stop flying planes if they are declared insane. But like the name suggests, there’s a catch. Catch-22 says that asking for a mental evaluation to get declared insane is proof that you aren’t in fact insane. So technically, there’s a way to get out of flying more bombing runs… but if you try it, you get sent right back out in the next plane!
Twenty-two also pops up in the kitchen. Normally, if you are slicing a pizza using 6 cuts, you’d do it neatly and end up with 12 even slices – much like the numbers on a clock face. But if you were a lazy pizza chef and just sliced randomly, you could end up cutting slices in half and ending up with more pieces. And it turns out, the most pieces you can end up with after 6 cuts is, you guessed it, 22!
On a darker note, 22 was also the lucky number of the Haitian voodoo dictator Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier. Papa Doc started studying voodoo folklore to spread rumours that he had supernatural powers, which let him rule through fear. But eventually, he started believing the rumours himself. He would only go outside his palace on the 22nd of the month, because he thought he was guarded by voodoo spirits on that lucky day. He even claimed to have killed JFK, whose assassination was on the 22nd of November 1963, supposedly by stabbing a voodoo doll of him 2222 times that morning…
23 – TWENTY-THREE
For 23 we’re going back to maths, and specifically prime numbers. A prime number remember, is one that can only be divided by itself and one without giving any remainder. Twenty-three has the unique property of being the smallest prime number which is not a ‘twin prime’ – that is a prime number which does not have another one within two spaces of it on the number-line. For example, 3, 5 and 7 are all close friends, while 11 and 13 go together. 17 is next to 19, but the nearest prime number to 23 is either four places below at 19, or six places above at 29, making it the smallest prime number to not have the ‘twin’ property.
Twenty-three is also big for birthdays. Not because the age of 23 is particularly special (although being the age mentioned in my favourite song – Blink 182’s ‘what’s my age again?’ – I do have a soft spot for it), but because of its appearance in the ‘Birthday Paradox’. The complete explanation is a little too long for Funbers, but in short it says that if you choose 23 people at random and put them in a room together, there is a greater than 50% chance that 2 of them share the same birthday. If that sounds too crazy to believe, check out a full explanation here from one of my students who applied it to the 23-man England squad for the 2018 Football World Cup. Now to enjoy some classic pop punk: “Nobody likes you when you’re 23…”
24 – TWENTY-FOUR
Who remembers Avogadro’s constant for the number of atoms contained in one mole of a substance from high school Chemistry? No, me neither. But, a great way to approximate it is using 24 factorial – or 24! in mathematical notation. The factorial function (or exclamation mark) tells you to multiply all of the numbers less than 24 together. So, 24! is equal to 24 x 23 x 22 x 21 x 20 x 19 x … x 2 x 1, also known as an incredibly large number. It’s about 3% larger than Avogadro’s constant, but certainly easier than remembering 6.02214076 x 10^{23}.
Twenty-four also represents the number of carats in pure gold, the number of letters in the Greek alphabet (ancient and modern) and the number of points on a backgammon board. Mathematically, 24 is the smallest number with exactly 8 numbers that divide it – can you name them? And, it’s equal to exactly 4 factorial: 4! = 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 = 24. Last but not least, where would we be without the 24 hour day – or to be precise 24 hours plus or minus a few milliseconds to be completely exact…
Day length | |
Yesterday | 24 hours -0.46 ms |
Today | 24 hours -0.39 ms |
Tomorrow | 24 hours -0.35 ms |
Shortest 2019 | 24 hours -0.95 ms |
Longest 2019 | 24 hours +1.67 ms |
Last Year Average | 24 hours +0.69 ms |
Tom Rocks Maths: S02 E06
Another fun-filled hour of your favourite two things – maths and rock music – courtesy of Tom Rocks Maths on Oxide Radio. This week I’m joined by two of my students from Teddy Hall, Fran and Tom, who will be explaining their favourite mathematical topics, taking part in a bumper numbers quiz, and sharing some of their music tastes. Plus, the usual dose of Funbers, and excellent music from Panic at the Disco, Sum 41 and Muse.
With thanks to Alice Taylor for production assistance.
Tom Rocks Maths: S02 E05
Tom Rocks Maths is back on Oxide Radio for Hilary Term 2019 with the usual eclectic mix of maths and music. Learn more about the only million-dollar Millennium Problem that’s been solved so far, fun facts about the number 6, and a nursery rhyme themed puzzle. Plus, music from Bring me the Horizon, Queen and Papa Roach. This is maths, but not as you know it…
Tom Rocks Maths S02 E04
The final episode of Tom Rocks Maths on Oxide Radio for 2018 goes out with a bang. We’ve got another million-dollar maths problem, a healthy dose of nakedness, and we try chopping up traffic cones with a saw. Plus, music from Jay-Z/Linkin Park, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Foo Fighters. This is maths, but not as you know it…
BIG STEM Communicators Network
As a new member of the BIG STEM Communicators Network I was very pleased to be featured in the member spotlight for spring 2019. (The original article is ‘members only’ so I’ve copied the text below.)
“As a new member of the BIG community I would like to introduce myself as the ‘Naked Mathematician’ (yes you did read that correctly). I am a Maths Tutor at the University of Oxford with a goal to reduce fear and anxiety towards maths. One of the ways in which I do this is to take my clothes off – what better way to emphasise that the subject is not as serious and intimidating as many people think than by teaching in my underwear! The concept began as a series of videos on my YouTube channel entitled ‘Equations Stripped’ where I strip back some of the most famous equations in maths (and myself) layer-by-layer so that everyone can understand, and has since evolved into a live performance now touring universities across the UK. My efforts to bring maths to a new audience have been recognised by the University of Oxford, where I was awarded first prize in the Outreach and Widening Participation category at the OxTALENT awards, and I have also been shortlisted for the Institute of Physics Early Career Communicator award.
The ‘Naked Mathematician’ is of course not appropriate for every audience and as such is only a small part of the work that I do to share my love of maths. My ‘Funbers’ series was broadcast throughout 2018 on BBC Radio, where in each episode I look at numbers more closely than anyone really should to bring you the fun facts that you didn’t realise you’ve secretly always wanted to know… I also try to involve my audience in the creative process as much as possible by issuing a call for questions on social media and then hosting a vote to decide the topic of my next video in the ‘I Love Mathematics’ video series. Finally, I combine my love of sport with maths in my popular ‘Maths v Sport’ talk which features a live penalty shootout on stage and an attempt to break a running world record (appropriately scaled of course!).
All of the material that I produce is available for free on my website tomrocksmaths.com and associated social media profiles @tomrocksmaths on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. I am very excited to have joined BIG and look forward to working with the community to help to share STEM subjects with the world!”
Tom Rocks Maths S02 E03
Season 2 of Tom Rocks Maths on Oxide Radio continues with maths and rock aplenty as we delve into the quantum realm to uncover the third Millennium Problem worth a cool $1 million… Plus the usual puzzle, fun facts about numbers you didn’t realise you’ve secretly always wanted to know, and brilliant music from Blink 182, My Chemical Romance and Asking Alexandria. This is maths, but not as you know it.
Image credit: Cath Ennis