Tag Archives: modeling

The Numbers Project, Epidemics, and Cut ‘n Slide

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

It’s an end-of-the-year group post!

Brandon Todd WilsonPaul: This week I found Brandon Todd Wilson, a graphic artist who lives in Kansas City. He started a new and ambitious project. He wants to make a design for each of the numbers 0 through 365, making a new one each day of the year. That’s tough, but he’s done some amazing things so far. Check them out over at the numbers project. I’m amazed by the sneaky, clever ways he comes up with to showcase the numbers. Can you tell what numbers these three are below? Click to find out.

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Maybe you could try a numeric design of your own. Perhaps for your favorite number or your birthday. If you make something your proud of, email us at mathmunchteam@gmail.com, and we could feature your work on Math Munch!

[Here are some numeric creations inspired by Brandon’s!]

ninaAnna: Next up, it’s probably the end of the school year for most of you readers out there. Our school year is wrapping up, too. It’s sad, but also exciting, because we’re looking forward to what comes in the future. Recently, some of my students, looking to their futures, have been wondering what many students wonder: If I like math, what are some things I can do with it after I leave school? (We’ve posted about this question before – check out this post on the site We Use Math and any of the interviews on our Q&A page.) We here at Math Munch had the honor last week to meet an awesome woman who uses math all the time in her work as a scientist – Nina Fefferman!

green_virus_tNina works mainly as a biologist at Rutgers University in New Jersey researching all kinds of cool and interesting things relating to epidemiology, or the study of infectious diseases and how they spread into epidemics in groups of people. How does she use math? In everything! Since dealing with infectious diseases is best done before they become epidemics, scientists like Nina make mathematical models to predict how a disease will spread before it hits. These models are really important for governments and hospitals, who use them to figure out how they can prepare for possible epidemics.

Nina loves math and her work – and you can hear all about it in this TEDx talk she did in 2010.

Justin: Finally, check out this short video by Sander Huisman, of mathematical pasta fame:

Sander has some more great videos, too. The shape that Sander’s cut and slide pattern gets closer and closer to is called the twindragon. It’s related to the more famous dragon fractal. Notice how the area of the shape stays the same throughout the video. Thanks to the kind folks at math.stackexchange for helping me to identify this fractal so quickly!

An earlier stage and a later stage of my cut & slide exploration.

An earlier stage and a later stage of my cut & slide exploration.

In searching about this geometry idea of “cut and slide”, I ran across some great stuff. One thing I found was this neat applet by Frederik Vanhoutte. (Warning: JAVA required.) Frederik is a med­ical radi­a­tion physi­cist who lives in Belgium and who likes to make wonderful graphics in his spare time. Frederik has shared many of these on his site—check out his portfolio.

On his About page, Frederik says this about why he makes his generative graphics:

“When rain hits the wind­screen, I see tracks alpha par­ti­cles trace in cells. When I pull the plug in the bath tub, I stay to watch the lit­tle whirlpool. When I sit at the kitchen table, I play with the glasses to see the caus­tics. At a can­dle light din­ner, I stare into the flame. Sometimes at night, I find myself behind the com­puter. When I finally blink, a mess of code is draw­ing ran­dom struc­tures on the screen. I spend the rest of the night staring.”

Bon appetit!

World’s Oldest Person, Graphing Challenge, and Escher Sketch

265282-jiroemon-kimura-the-world-s-oldest-living-man-celebrated-his-115th-birOn April 19th, Jiroeman Kimura celebrated his 116th birthday. He was – and still is – the world’s oldest person, and the world’s longest living man – ever. (As far as researchers know, that is. There could be a man who has lived longer that the public doesn’t know about.) The world’s longest living woman was Jeanne Calment, who lived to be 122 and a half!

Most people don’t live that long, and, obviously, only one person can hold the title of “Oldest Person in the World” at any given time. So, you may  be wondering… how often is there a new oldest person in the world? (Take a few guesses, if you like. I’ll give you the answer soon!)

stackSome mathematicians were wondering this, too, and they went about answering their question in the way they know best: by sharing their question with other mathematicians around the world! In April, a mathematician who calls himself Gugg, asked this question on the website Mathematics Stack Exchange, a free question-and-answer site that people studying math can use to share their ideas with each other. Math Stack Exchange says that it’s for “people studying math at any level.” If you browse around, you’ll see mathematicians asking for help on all kinds of questions, such as this tricky algebra problem and this problem about finding all the ways to combine coins to get a certain amount of money.  Here’s an entry from a student asking for help on trigonometry homework. You might need some specialized math knowledge to understand some of the questions, but there’s often one that’s both interesting and understandable on the list.

Anyway, Gugg asked on Math Stack Exchange, “How often does the oldest person in the world die?” and the community of mathematicians around the world got to work! Several mathematicians gave ways to calculate how often a new person becomes the oldest person in the world. You can read about how they worked it out on Math Stack Exchange, if you like, or on the Smithsonian blog – it’s a good example of how people use math to model things that happen in the world. Oh, and, in case you were wondering, a new person becomes the world’s oldest about every 0.65 years. (Is that around what you expected? It was definitely more often than I expected!)

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Next, check out this graph! Yes, that’s a graph – there is a single function that you can make so that when you graph it, you get that.  Crazy – and beautiful! This was posted by a New York City math teacher named Michael Pershan to a site called Daily Desmos, and he challenges you to figure out how to make it!  (He challenged me, too. I worked on this for days.)

qod0nxgctfMichael made this graph using an awesome free, online graphing program called Desmos. Michael and many other people regularly post graphing challenges on Daily Desmos. Some of them are very difficult (like the one shown above), but some are definitely solvable without causing significant amounts of pain. They’re marked with levels “Basic” and “Advanced.” (See if you can spot contributions from a familiar Math Munch face…)

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Here are more that I think are particularly beautiful. If you’re feeling more creative than puzzle-solvey, try making a cool graph of your own! You can submit a graphing challenge of your own to Daily Desmos.

escher 3If you’ve got the creative bug, you could also check out a new MArTH tool that we just found called Escher Web Sketch. This tool was designed by three Swiss mathematicians, and it helps you to make intricate tessellations with interesting symmetries – like the ones made by the mathematical artist M. C. Escher. If you like Symmetry Artist and Kali, you’ll love this applet.

Be healthy and happy! Enjoy graphing and sketching! And, bon appetit!