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Math Trek
Florence Nightingale: The passionate statistician
When Florence Nightingale arrived at a British hospital in Turkey during the Crimean War, she found a nightmare of misery and chaos. Men lay crowded next to each other in endless corridors. The air reeked from the cesspool that lay just beneath the hospital floor. There was little food and fewer basic supplies.
By the time Nightingale left Turkey after the war ended in...

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Less is more
What’s true for jealous lovers and frustrated parents also applies to nanoscale cogs and wheels and environmental regulations: Cutting some slack sometimes gives better results than being too strict.
Giovanni Volpe, a physicist at the Institute for Photonic Sciences in Barcelona, and his colleagues took a fresh look at the mathematics of constraints — specifically, of “noisy”...

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Gödel, Escher, Chopin
Familiar relationships between sets of musical notes, such as transposition between chords, directly translate into geometrical structures such as this Möbius strip — where each dot represents a whole class of equivalent twonote chords — or into more complex structures with many dimensions.
Composers have an understanding of these geometries without realizing it, says...

Math Trek
The Noisy Game of Baseball
Halfway through the 2005 baseball season, John Olerud was having a great year with the Boston Red Sox. His batting average was .405, far better than that of most players. If someone had offered to wager with you on what his batting average would be for the rest of the season, what would you have bet?
It might seem like .405 would make sense, the same as the first half of the...

Math Trek
Creeping Up on Riemann
Prime numbers are maddeningly capricious. They clump together like buddies on some regions of the number line, but in other areas, nary a prime can be found. So number theorists can't even roughly predict where the next prime will occur. The distribution of primes is the great motivating question of number theory.
Prime numbers are like the atoms of...

Math Trek
Humanitarian Statistics
In late 2006, a statistical study of deaths that occurred after the invasion of Iraq ignited a storm of controversy. This Lancet study estimated that more than 650,000 additional Iraqis died during the invasion than would have at preinvasion death rates, a vastly higher estimate than any previous. But in January, a World Health Organization study placed the number at about 150,000.
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Math Trek
Sacred Geometry
Hundreds of years ago in Japan, people offered thanks to the gods by sacrificing a horse or a pig. Horses and pigs, however, were valuable and expensive, so poor folks had a hard time expressing their gratitude. So they came up with a solution: Rather than sacrificing a horse, they would simply draw a painting of a horse on a wooden tablet and hang it in the temple.
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Math Trek
SpoilProofing Elections
When Ralph Nader recently announced he was entering the 2008 presidential race, many Democrats groaned. It was his fault, they say, that George Bush defeated Al Gore in 2000. But Nader retorted that the Democratic Party has only itself to blame for the loss in 2000.
Mathematicians offer a different perspective. The problem, they say, doesn't lie with Nader or with the Democrats. It lies...

Math Trek
The Geometry of Music
The connection between mathematics and music is often touted in awed, mysterious tones, but it is grounded in hardheaded science. For example, mathematical principles underlie the organization of Western music into 12note scales. And even a beginning piano student encounters geometry in the "circle of fifths" when learning the fundamentals of music theory.
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Math Trek
A Mathematical Tragedy
This is part two of a twopart series. Part I: "An Attack on Fermat" is available at About Time.
Nearly two centuries ago, Sophie Germain, the first woman known to have discovered significant mathematical theorems, developed a bold plan to prove Fermat's Last Theorem. But this entire plan was nearly lost to history, until David Pengelley of New Mexico State...