Archive by category | Mathematics

Maths and murals: Leiden’s wall formulae

One of Einstein's field equations - part of the Leiden wall formulae project.

Albert Einstein’s field equations from his theory of general relativity combine wonderful scientific intuition with the honed concision of poetry. Yet relatively few of the culturally inclined marvel at the shape of a mathematical equation in the way they might at a line from Shakespeare. Now, however, the Dutch university town of Leiden is giving its citizens a chance to try, through iconic formulae by physicists and astronomers painted on walls throughout the city.  Read more

Hidden Figures: the movie


High-profile protests dominated the media during the civil rights era in 1960s America. At NASA, a quieter struggle was already underway. From the 1940s, African-American women had been chipping away at perceptions and making incursions into the early space programme — that otherwise very white, male world.  Read more

Top 20 books: a year that made waves


This was a year that made waves — some so steep that I found myself reaching for a psychological surfboard. I skimmed along the discovery of gravitational waves (featured in Janna Levin’s Black Hole Blues and Other Songs of Outer Space), and rode the CRISPR tsunami. The political turbulence stateside, in Britain and beyond had me scrabbling for balance — and historical precedents. Yet amid all the Sturm und Drang, it has been a terrific year for science and culture.  Read more

Breaking barriers: the US space programme’s black women mathematicians

Breaking barriers: the US space programme's black women mathematicians

Some of the most intriguing stories in the history of US science have emerged over the past few years. It’s about time. These books centre on something long under wraps: the centrally important roles women played starting some 70 years ago in the great technological transition that gripped the twentieth century. Denise Kiernan’s The Girls of Atomic City (Touchstone, 2013) chronicled the contributions of the women who worked at the secret atomic-bomb laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, during the Second World War. Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt (reviewed here) depicted the mathematicians or “human computers” who crunched numbers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in southern California from the 1940s. In this catalogue, Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures is more than just another entry.  Read more

The equations of love

Gustav Klimt, The Kiss, 1906-7

Few topics are as disparate as mathematics and love — or are they? Modeling Love Dynamics (World Scientific, 2016) by systems theorist Sergio Rinaldi and others playfully, but convincingly, makes the point that even amorous relationships cannot escape the fundamental laws of dynamical systems.  Read more

The making of Alice

The making of Alice

On 19 October 1863 an unknown mathematician, Charles L. Dodgson, was introduced to the publisher Alexander Macmillan in Oxford by Thomas Combe, director of the Clarendon Press and printer to Oxford University. Macmillan’s publishing business, established with his brother in 1843, was growing. He had built a reputation among scholars and authors as a leading academic publisher in fields such as mathematics and geology.  Read more

A scintillating shortlist for the Royal Society prize

A scintillating shortlist for the Royal Society prize

As the literati strive to predict the future of the book, one thing is clear in the here and now: the best of popular science writing is still all about clarity, rigour and brio. This year’s six-book shortlist for the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books bristles with that mix.  Read more