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News from Mathnasium of Roslyn

Math – It is Everywhere

Aug 4, 2015

There's school, and then there's the real world. At least, that's what it often seems. But actually, if we pull off the masks and facades covering everything in this real world we live in, we find that behind them all are the things we do in school.

This is especially true for math. Math is really everywhere. It's one school subject you'll be able to make use of in every part of your daily life. And I'm not just talking about if you become an investment banker either. Look carefully, and you'll find that there's math behind almost everything you do, work or play. A good understanding of math can help you live your chosen life to the fullest, no matter what kind of life that might be.

Do you enjoy watching sports? Math helps you make sense of the scorecards, and enables you to calculate the running averages of each of the players and the chances they have before the match even begins. Without math, you can never have more than a surface understanding of any game.

In fact, with math you can figure out your chances whenever you play a game that seems to be completely random. You can find out the likelihood of a win even before you start playing.

Or, if your game is dependent on skill and not on chance, you can figure out your ideal moves and change a likely loss into a likely win. For instance, math equations can help you calculate the particular angle and perfect amount of force to kick that ball so that you'll end up with a trajectory that brings that ball straight into the goal.

Math allows you to plan travel - little overnight trips to the next town or major transcontinental explores. You can figure out how long it takes to get where you want to go, how much gas it will take, and how much the gas will cost. Or if you like to think big and want to plan a hiking trip to the Himalayas instead of to the next town, you can use math to find out how much money you have to put aside each week so that you can go next summer, and, after you get there, how many kilometers you can cover in a month, doing six hours a day at your regular walking speed.

Math can help you design a rocket –a device that defies gravity by shooting up out of our atmosphere. It'll allow you to build a bridge that spans a chasm of any width, or a skyscraper that stands un-phased through an earthquake.

There's a whole lot of math behind every computer game - whether it's a strategy game, a simulation or a FPS. Those ultra-realistic 3D views are the product of a bit of advanced geometry - transforming vectors through three-dimensional space and projecting them onto a plane. The programming language behind your game is a code based on mathematical logic, and this math enables the computer to 'think' as it responds to your every move.

If you're more artsy, though, doesn't that mean you can dispense with the math books? Actually, math is in painting too! Many of the best painters used geometrical principles in creating their masterpieces; and a knowledge of symmetry and geometrical patterns can take your artwork to new levels. Or you can go the opposite direction and use mathematical turbulence to enhance your paintings - like Van Gogh, who painted perfect mathematical turbulence, as described by the Kolmogrov scaling equations, in his famous painting "Starry Night".

Math is in nature, and if you love studying animals and plants, you'll be delighted to find that all nature is built on mathematical building blocks, as if every tree, rock, and living creature were artistic expressions of the most mathematical mind. For instance, the flowers of an artichoke or the arrangement of a pinecone are set in pure mathematical patterns. They're called Fibonacci sequences; go look them up.

A chambered nautilus shell is another lovely bit of math; it's a perfect logarithmic spiral, and maintains the same proportions throughout its life.

But the math in nature is not limited to a few isolated examples. Scientists have been surprised time and again by the ridiculously simple mathematical equations that describe so much of the physical universe. It didn't have to be this way, but somehow it is. There are no messy equations in any fundamental theories; it's all immensely beautiful, simple math.

Maybe you don't care about beautiful theory, you want something practical and useful. Mathematical calculations are also used by wildlife managers working on keeping our planet alive and beautiful. Without math, it would be impossible to figure out the effect of environmental stresses on ecosystems or populations of endangered animals—and because of this, any attempt to 'save the whales' - or spotted owls, or snow leopards—would be haphazard and destined to fail.

In fact, mathematics plays a pivotal role in almost any field. You might not need any math to be a simple garbage collector, or to dig ditches or cut down trees. But you do need math to figure out the most efficient way to do any of those things. Math is used by doctors, plumbers, musicians, and writers. It's the backbone of any engineering, architecture, and science, and it's key to information theory and the secret messages of cryptography.

Look around you now. There's nothing in your range of vision that isn't some-how built or defined by omnipresent math, that one player that seems absolutely determined not to be left out—of anything. Math. It truly is everywhere.