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Math Trek
An Attack on Fermat
This is part one of a twopart series. Part II: "A Mathematical Tragedy" is available at About Time.
Around 1630, Pierre de Fermat scribbled his famous note in the margin of a book stating what is now known as "Fermat's Last Theorem." "I have discovered a truly remarkable proof which this margin is too small to contain," he added. His proof has never been found...

Math Trek
Math on Display
Mathematicians often rhapsodize about the austere elegance of a wellwrought proof. But math also has a simpler sort of beauty that is perhaps easier to appreciate: It can be used to create objects that are just plain pretty—and fascinating to boot.
That beauty was richly on display at an exhibition of mathematical...

Math Trek
The Grammy in Mathematics
Shortly after September 11, 2001, a small, heavy package wrapped in brown paper arrived in the mail at the Woody Guthrie Archives in New York City. Inside was a mess of wires.
Guthrie's daughter Nora eventually figured out that the suspicious package wasn't a bomb, but rather a recording of her father on a device that predated magnetic tape. After a year of...

Math Trek
Getting Old, Faster and Faster
It's not so obvious how old a 60yearold is. Ask most 60yearolds these days and they'll say they still feel pretty young, since they're healthy and expect many active years to come. In 1900, though, a 60yearold was, well, old.
This simple fact has big ramifications for demographers. Demographers have long known that on average people are getting older all around the world, and they...

Math Trek
Benjamin Franklin Plays Sudoku
Only in the last five years has sudoku been capturing people's recreational time. But 250 years ago, Benjamin Franklin was developing fascinating puzzles with principles quite similar to sudoku, keeping himself occupied while taking a break from his electrical investigations. Now, a mathematician has discovered two Franklin puzzles even more fantastic than those previously known and written a...

Math Trek
Checking It Twice
Counting is hard. Neither people nor machines seem to be able to do it reliably. And that's a nightmare for election officials who need an accurate ballot count to decide elections.
Eighteen states require officials to doublecheck the machine counts by hand for a portion of the ballots. But election officials have had little guidance on what to do with the recount results. If the...

Math Trek
Small Infinity, Big Infinity
Infinity is bigger than any number. But saying just how much bigger is not so simple. In fact, infinity comes in infinitely many different sizes—a fact discovered by Georg Cantor in the late 1800s.
Now a mathematician has come up with a new, different proof. Based on a simple game, the proof uses a strategy that might someday shed light on one of the great...

Math Trek
The Power of Being Influenced
Sometimes an idea spreads through society like a newlymutated cold virus zooming through a class of firstgraders. Other times, a good idea never seems to take hold. What makes the difference? Scientists want to know, and marketers want to know even more, since they make their living spreading ideas about their products.
A key reason some ideas are so successful, conventional wisdom...

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Tiptoe acrobats get it just right
If walking on water takes grace, jumping on it requires exquisite care.
Water striders spend most of their lives on a water surface, typically that of a pond. Microscopic hairs, coated with a waxy substance, make the striders' long legs extremely waterrepellent, enabling the bugs to rest on water as if the surface were a rubber membrane.
As the name implies, water striders are...

Math Trek
Questionable Numbers for a Questionable Remedy
When you first feel the sniffles and wonder what to grab from your medicine cabinet, perhaps you should first check some numbers. Especially if one of your choices is echinacea.
The evidence on whether echinacea helps fight colds has been confusing. A 2005 study concluded that the herb doesn't help, but a few months ago, a team of pharmacists claimed that it...