Monthly Archives: November 2011

Number Gossip, Travels, and Topology

Thanksgiving was great, but I hope you saved room for this week’s Math Munch!

First up, meet Tanya Khovonova, a mathematician and blogger who works at MIT.  Number Gossip is a website of hers where you can find the mysterious facts behind your favorite numbers.  For instance, did you know that the opposite sides of a die add to 7, or that 7 is the only prime number followed by a cube (8=23)? Speaking of 7, I also found this cool test for divisibility by 7 on Tanya’s website.

Tanya Khovonova

Is that divisible by 7? Let's take a walk.

Read about how to use it here, but basically you follow that diagram a certain way, and if you land back at the white dot, then you’re number is divisible by 7. I’m amazed and trying to figure out how it works!

Infographic - Holiday Travel Patterns

Next up, I wanted to share this incredible picture I found today.  It’s an infographic showing travel patterns in the US during the holiday season.  The picture must represent millions of little pieces of data, so I’ve spent a lot of time staring and analyzing it.  Did you notice the bumps in the bottom?  Why is that happening?  Why are the blue lines different from the white lines? There are so many good things to be seen.

Finally, take a look at these pictures!  They’re from Kenneth Baker’s Sketches of Topology blog.  Kenneth makes images demonstrating ideas in topology, one of the most visually appealing branches of mathematics.  Some of it is tough to understand, but the pictures certainly are fascinating.

On a related point, have you taken a look at the Math Munch page of math games? (You can always find the link at the top of the column to the right.)  I just added a topology game, the Four Color Game, and I’m kind of loving it.  It’s based on a famous math result about only needing 4 colors to nicely color any flat map.  This is called the Four Color Theorem, and it’s a part of topology.

Bon appetit!

Math Craft, Philippa Fawcett, and Mandelbrot

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

Math Craft is a supersweet website where members submit their mathematically inspired art and instructions about how to make your own.  I love the polyhedra made out of pennies in the masthead, these curve stitches, and these polyhedral pumpkins!  Here is a link to Math Craft’s welcome page, authored by admin Cory Poole.  Cory is a math and physics teacher at University Preparatory School in California. The welcome page includes some instructions for creating some great paper polyhedra. Math Craft is just starting up; I’m sure there will be many more great project to be found there in the future!

Philippa Fawcett, who broke the glass ceiling of Cambridge mathematics

An article recently appeared on the Past Imperfect blog on about the compelling story of Philippa Fawcett. Fawcett was the first and only woman to make the highest score on the Cambridge tripos mathematical exam.  She did so during an age when the predominant opinion was that women were incapable and weak and certainly couldn’t excel at mathematics.  Fawcett’s performance on this exam did much to dispel this prejudice.  The article not only relates an interesting chapter from history, but also give an inspiring account of a person’s drive to success despite enormous obstacles.

Finally, by request, a journey through the Mandelbrot set:


Benoit Mandelbrot, the father of fractal geometry, passed away about a year ago. You can listen to his outstanding TED talk about his life’s work here. I love his enthusiasm and curiosity, as well as how he can find marvels in the seemingly ordinary.  Also, how much fun is the way he pronounces “cauliflower”?!  You can find a memorial to Benoit Mandelbrot in last November’s edition of Peer Points.

Bon appetit!

Circles, Geomagic, and Marble Calculators

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

We gave you a taste of some of Vi Hart’s math art last week with her balloon creations.  This week, we’re featuring some of Vi’s doodling in math class art – her Apollonian gaskets!  An Apollonian gasket is a fractal made by drawing a big circle, drawing two or three (or more!) smaller circles inside of it so that they fit snugly, and then filling all of the left-over empty space with smaller and smaller circles.  Here’s the video in which Vi tells how she draws Apollonian gaskets with circles and other shapes (and how she makes other awesome things like an infinitely long caravan of camels fading into the distance).  And here are some more Apollonian gaskets made by filling other shapes with circles from Math Freeze.

Next, you may have seen a magic square before, a number puzzle in which you fill a square grid with numbers so that each row, column, and diagonal have the same sum.  (Play with one here.)  But have you ever seen a geomagic square?

Magic squares have been around for thousands of years, but in 2001, Lee Sallows started thinking about them in a new way.  Lee realized that you could think of the numbers in the square as sticks of particular lengths, and the number being added to as an amount of space you were trying to fill with those sticks.  That led him to try to make magic squares out of things like pentominoes and other polyominoes, butterflies,  and many other shapes!  Aren’t they beautiful?

Finally, what do marbles, binary, and wooden levers have in common?  Mathematical artist, designer, and wood-worker Matthias Wandel built a binary adding machine that uses marbles and wooden gates!  Here’s a video demonstrating how it works:

Matthias doesn’t only build calculators.  Here’s a marble elevator and a machine that you can take apart and reassemble to make a new track.

Bon Appetit!

Balloons, Numbers, and Mathemusic

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!  We’ve got a full plate for you.

Vi Hart and Balloon Art

Vi Hart is a “recreational mathemusician,” which means she spends a lot of her free time making math, music, and art of all kinds.  She is best known for her “doodling in math class” videos, but her website is full of cool and creative projects.  This week we’re featuring Vi’s balloon art. There are lots of cool pictures and instructions to make your own balloon creations!

Landon Curt Noll

Next up, Landon Curt Noll is a number theorist, computer scientist, and astronomer who does and makes all kinds of cool things.  Three different times, he discovered the largest prime numbers anyone had ever found!  Here’s a link to his list of curious patterns in the prime numbers.  In another venture, Landon wrote a neat little program that tells you the English name of a number.  How do you pronounce 1,213,141,516,171,819?  Give it a try.  I know million, billion, trillion, quadrillion, and quintillion, but what’s after that?  Check it out: Landon lists the first 10,000 powers of ten!

Finally, the connections between math and music often inspire awesome creations.  Here’s a beautiful video by Michael John Blake in which he converts the digits of pi to notes, and we get to hear what pi sounds like.

Here’s a similar video by Lars Erickson who wrote an entire symphony based on the idea.  “The Pi Symphony” also includes the sound of e, another important math number which is about 2.71828…

Bon appetit!