Stories tagged math


Sucked in: Will this harm your development?
Sucked in: Will this harm your development?

Autism is a serious concern in our country today, with 1 out of every 166 children diagnosed with some form of the disorder. But could the sharp rise in Autism (it was only 1 in 2500 30 years ago) be linked to the increased prevalence of TV in our homes? Economists from Cornell University say that the data shows a pretty strong correlation.

Michael Waldman and Sean Nicholson looked at populations in California, Oregon, and Washington using the Department of Labor's American Time Use Survey. They compared this information with clinical autism data and found a statistically significant correlation between and increase in early childhood hours spent watching TV and autism rates.

Is that science?

Well, the authors of the study will be the first to say that this isn't definitive proof that TV causes autism (or that autism causes TV...sorry, bad joke). And these guys are economists looking at population data not medical scientists studying individuals with autism. But that doesn't mean this study is without merit. Something in our environment causes autism and we don't really know what it is. I support any unique thought on the subject that gives us new research questions to evaluate.

Do you have a story or thought on autism? Have you heard of other possible causes of autism?


Comparison of body temperatures: A plot of the relationship between average body temperature (°C) and the logarithm of body mass for dinosaurs and modern crocodiles.  This graph potentially shows the accuracy of the formula by applying it to modern crocodiles. Chart  courtesy Gillooly JF Allen AP, Charnov EL (2006) Dinosaur Fossils Predict Body Temperatures. PLoS Biol 4(8): e248.
Comparison of body temperatures: A plot of the relationship between average body temperature (°C) and the logarithm of body mass for dinosaurs and modern crocodiles. This graph potentially shows the accuracy of the formula by applying it to modern crocodiles. Chart courtesy Gillooly JF Allen AP, Charnov EL (2006) Dinosaur Fossils Predict Body Temperatures. PLoS Biol 4(8): e248.
The question regarding whether dinosaurs were warm-blooded or cold-blooded has been debated for decades. Currently, most scientists believe that dinosaurs were warm-blooded and used internal mechanisms to maintain a constant body temperature. However, what that internal body temperature was could have fluctuated depending on the size of the dinosaur, making it possible for dinosaurs to have been both.
The bigger the hotter
Researchers at the University of Florida devised a mathematical formula that describes the connection between temperature, growth rate and biomass across a wide range of modern creatures. They then applied this formula to newly available fossil data on the growth rates of eight dinosaur species.
The equation showed that the bigger a dinosaur was the hotter is was. Smaller dinosaurs had internal body temperatures of around 77º Fahrenheit, which was close to the average air temperature of their time, so could have regulated their body temperatures much like modern cold-blooded reptiles. As dinosaurs grew larger, and the ratio of their surface area to volume fell, they became less efficient as dissipating their own metabolic heat. Because of this increased internal body temperature, dinosaurs probably had to develop behavioral or other adaptations to avoid overheating.
Body temperature influenced dinosaur size
One of the larger dinosaurs studied, Sauroposeidon proteles, weighed nearly 120,000 pounds. Applying the mathematical formula reveals that it may have had a body temperature close to 118º Fahrenheit, which is about as hot as most living creatures can get before the proteins in their bodies begin to break down. Because of this, the size of the largest dinosaurs may have been limited by their internal body temperatures.


Hourglass: from Wikimedia Commons  Life is a gift. Use it wisely.
Hourglass: from Wikimedia Commons Life is a gift. Use it wisely.

How many seconds are in a day?

Can you picture how many seconds are in a day? One day equals 86,400 seconds. Here is a link to a clock that has a dot for every second in the day. You can watch them change color one by one. Unless, of course, you can think a better way to use your gift of life.

Life is a gift.

We all receive this gift equally, second by second, day after day, until we die. Use this gift wisely.

We've been thinking about different ways that the resurgent craft movement has links to science (trust me there are tons). So while doing some origami this weekend I was psyched to find this cool math resource on how to fold a square into thirds, fifths, and all those other hard to eyeball fractions.

What would a billion (or a trillion) pennies look like? The Megapennie project shows you.


Keeper: Image courtesy various visual stuff.

Earlier I wrote a blog post where mathematicians had determined that soccer was the most exciting sport to watch because the probability for an upset was higher than in other sports. In recent soccer related science research, Ken Bray, a theoretical physicist from the University of bath in England has conducted research to show that the areas near the top corners of the net are what he calls an “unsaveable zone”. To find this zone, Bray studied games from the past 50 years and applied his knowledge of physics, biology, and psychology to calculate the reach of a goalkeeper attempting to save a penalty kick. His advice for the goalkeepers? Move before the ball is kicked…which I think is cheating, so that would not be my advice! Bray also says that in 85% of penalty kicks, the direction in which the plant foot is the direction of the shot.

Dr. Bray has written a book on the science of soccer titled, “How to Score”.


A goaltender: Diving for the ball.

I play soccer. I can frequently run and kick the ball without falling on my face, so I enjoy it. In fact, it is my most favorite sport to play. However, I think that watching soccer on TV is like watching paint dry — I find it to be very dull.

However, researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory have found that soccer is the most unpredictable sport, as it more likely that a team with a worse record can defeat a team with a better record. The researchers looked at the results of over 300,000 soccer, baseball, basketball, hockey and football games, and found that the likelihood for an upset was greatest in soccer.

So, it should be more exciting to watch a soccer game because the results are not as predicated on the records of the two teams as other sports.

This research is an interesting way to combine an interest in sports and an interest in math!


Remember this number, 3.14159? It's Pi, the natural number that describes the mathematical properties of a circle. Well, the digits for Pi go on and on and on (for infinity actually) and that makes for some fun competitions and great feats of memory. As a matter of fact a 59-year-old Japanese psychiatric counselor, Akira Haraguchi, has recently broken the world record for reciting the digits of Pi from memory. From the time he started at 3.14 to the time he ended 13 hours later he recited 42,195 digits of Pi.

Pi diagram

Can you imagine memorizing that many numbers? Check out the first 10,000 digits of Pi to see how hard it is to remember that many numbers. And if that doesn't wear you out, try for the record by checking out the first 100,000 digits of Pi.

To learn more about the fun aspects of Pi, check out the Exploratorium's Ridiculously Enhanced Pi Page. Every March 14th, international Pi day, in San Francisco the Exploratorium hosts a Pi festival with lots of fun activities, including real pie.



Most home computers almost never employ their full processing power during their normal day-to-day operation. Distributed computing is a way of using the spare processing power from personal computers to solve large problems. The large problem is broken down into smaller parts and these parts are distributed to home computers to solve. The results are then sent back and combined into a solution for the larger problem.

Using the spare processing power of home computers is a powerful tool. The current most powerful supercomputer, IBM's Blue Gene/L clocks out over 70 trillion calculations per second; while 500,000 home computers running a distributed computing project can top 100 trillion calculations per second.

The most popular example of distributing is the SETI@home project, which analyzes data from the Arecibo radio telescope to search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

One of the most recent distributed computing projects is Einstein@home, which searches for spinning neutron stars (or pulsars) using data from the LIGO and GEO gravitational wave detectors.

You can help search for extraterrestrial life, spinning neutron stars, help design a particle accelerator, predict Earth's climate and more by visiting the distributed computing info website.


The US Postal Service will release 4 new stamps this month to commemorate important American scientists of the last century.

4 American Scientist StampsOne of my favorite science thinkers, Richard Feynman, will be featured on one of the stamps. Feynman was famous for his discoveries about Quantum Electro Dynamics, which allowed us to understand more about the very strange properties of light. While Feynman was a ground breaking scientist he also excelled as a remarkable teacher. To get a sense for his teaching abilities and to learn more about light, you should watch one of his lectures on Quantum Electro Dynamics

The stamps will also feature:

  • Geneticist Barbara McClintock - McClintock's work on genes in maize (corn) earned her the Nobel Prize in 1983. She was the first person to discover that genes are genes are transposable--they can move between chromosomes.
  • Mathematician John von Neumann - von Neumann's mathematical discoveries helped establish the field of cellular automata and many of the principles that drive modern computers today. He even extended his thories to the field of mining, proposing futuristic ways of mining the moon.
  • Thermodynamicist Josiah Willard Gibbs - Gibbs, who lived from 1839-1903, studied the physics and mathematics involved in how complex fluids move around in space. His work provided a foundation for future discoveries such as vector analysis (a type of math), quantum mechanics, and even the behavior of comets.

Do you think you will buy stamps because they have scientists on them? I will, but I'm kind of a nerd.