...a companion blog to "Math-Frolic," specifically for interviews, book reviews, weekly-linkfests, and longer posts or commentary than usually found at the Math-Frolic site.

"Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty – a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show." ---Bertrand Russell (1907) Rob Gluck

"I have come to believe, though very reluctantly, that it [mathematics] consists of tautologies. I fear that, to a mind of sufficient intellectual power, the whole of mathematics would appear trivial, as trivial as the statement that a four-legged animal is an animal." ---Bertrand Russell (1957)

******************************************************************** Rob Gluck

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Marianne Freiberger... of Plus Magazine

Math-Frolic Interview #32

"My interest in maths popularisation simply comes from the fact that I love the ideas and think that everyone should know about them. It’s almost a cliche, but it’s true: maths is poorly understood and misunderstood by 'the public'....
"Few subjects are as impenetrable to non-experts as mathematics – half of the time we don’t even understand each other’s work! It takes experts to help translate the jumble of symbols and strange words into something that can be understood by the rest of the world. If academics don’t help, then everyone else loses out."
   -- Marianne Freiberger

Marianne Freiberger is one of the editors of a site most of us know and love: plusmaths.org  
(If by any chance you don't know of it, go and play around on it for awhile; you'll get lost in all the great articles and other content, including podcasts ).
Plus Magazine also has a Facebook page here:  https://www.facebook.com/plusmagazine
...and tweets here:  https://twitter.com/plusmathsorg

Dr. Freiberger has done a TEDTalk as well:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GwT9ajo7a5Q

The interview is shorter than usual because I had asked Marianne several questions related to British math education which it turned out she didn't feel qualified to respond to, but you can also learn more about her at this "European Women in Mathematics" page:


1)  How did you first become interested in mathematics, and when did you know you wished to pursue it professionally?

It was at school when I learnt about the epsilon/delta definition of a limit. I was amazed at how such a subtle concept can be captured using a few symbols! I didn’t immediately decide to do maths professionally, but when I found myself in England a few years later and wanted to do a degree, I thought that (not being a native English speaker) maths was the best option since it doesn’t involve writing essays. It turns out it was a great choice because I haven’t looked back.

[Fascinating, I don't think I've ever heard anyone pinpoint the "epsilon/delta definition of a limit" as the thing that turned them on to math! -- just shows the diversity from which one's interest in math can stem from!]

2)  How do you go about selecting the topics you write about at +Plus Magazine?
Also, my sense is that you maintain a greater focus on the foundations, ideas, philosophy, and history of mathematics, than on mathematical procedures/computation...  Is that a fair statement? (...in one place I saw you quoted as saying you were "fascinated by the ideas, but bored by the details" of math... which I can relate to).

In my experience most mathematicians are more interested in ideas than in computational details — but maybe that’s because my background is in pure maths. But also, my co-editor Rachel Thomas and I see Plus as a place where people come to explore the world of maths, rather than find answers to particular problems or learn about techniques — there are other places for that. We’d like to provide the "big picture" that people often lack when it comes to maths, and that involves looking at applications of maths, which we do quite a lot, but also at history and philosophical and foundational issues.

3)  +Plus is now in part an offshoot of the Millennium Mathematics Project -- can you say a little about that effort, and how well it is going so far, for any unaware of it?`

The Millennium Mathematics Project is an umbrella organisation comprising a number of projects. Plus is one of them. The MMP is physically based at the University of Cambridge, but active nationally and internationally. It's about  increasing mathematical understanding, confidence and enjoyment, enriching everyone's experience of mathematics, and promoting creative and imaginative approaches to maths to all ages. Another of its projects is our sister site NRICH which has thousands of free resources for ages 3 to 19. The MMP also comprises maths-themed road shows that visit schools, as well as local activities. You can see all the projects here: http://mmp.maths.org.

The MMP has been around since 1999 and has quite a wide reach. During 2013/14 the online resources attracted nearly 8 million visits and more than 32.6 million pageviews. We worked face-to-face with more than 26,000 students aged 5 to 18, and over 5,500 teachers.  Over 1,500 people took part in our activities in the Centre for Mathematical Sciences in Cambridge.


4)  What are some of your own favorite popular math books or authors that you'd recommend to a general reader? And tell us about your own recent book, with Rachel Thomas, "Numericon.”

It was Ian Stewart (in particular his book “Does God Play Dice?”) who inspired me to do a PhD in maths, in particular in complex dynamics. So he’s definitely one of my heroes. I also really like the books by John D. Barrow (who happens to be my boss, but honest, they’re good) for his clear and easy style and wide range of topics. Mario Livio is another author I like… and there are many more, too many to list!

"Numericon" was the perfect popular maths book for me and Rachel Thomas (the other editor of Plus) to write. Essentially it’s a journey through the land of maths, visiting some of our favourite places, faces and landmarks. Each chapter is headed by a number, which we use as a jumping-off point into some area of maths: from prime numbers, or  the classification of finite simple groups, to climate science and network theory. It was lots of fun writing Numericon — in our time as Plus editors we have come across so much interesting maths and so many fascinating mathematicians; writing the book felt like downloading our favourite stories onto a page.

5)  There's a lot of emphasis today on encouraging more females in mathematical (and other STEM) careers. What was your own experience like following that path, and do you have any advice for young women contemplating a future in mathematics today?

My own experiences have been mostly very positive and I’d encourage any woman who likes maths to go for it. It can be intimidating to walk into a maths department and see mostly white males, but think of yourself in terms of what you have in common with people (a love for the subject) rather than what sets you apart. Also, mathematics offers such a wide range of career options, so if you like maths, you really can’t go wrong with a maths degree.


Thanks Dr. Freiberger, and continued success with Plus Magazine, a great resource which any reader of this blog should certainly be following.

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