Mathematics: An Unseen Force

We recently recommended The Joy of X: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity by Steven Strogatz.  One of the more interesting essays explains some of the mathematics behind interesting phenomena.  He offers the architecture of New York’s Grand Central Station whispering galleries as one such example. In the whispering galleries two people can stand at two points 40 feet across the hallway from each other. If one person whispers “sweet nothings” the second person can clearly hear each word, but passersby cannot hear a word.

While this phenomenon seems like magic, it’s actually based on mathematics. The gallery is elliptically shaped (or oval shaped) which means there are two focus points on the floor where all sound waves will bounce from the walls.

One of my favorite examples of elliptical shaped architecture is the National Hall of Statues in Washington, DC. This is where the U. S. House of Representatives held their sessions from 1807-1857. There are two bronze plaques on the floor. If two people stand on those plaques across the hall from each other, they can talk to one another in a normal conversational tone and not miss hearing a word.

The first time a tour guide told me about these two points, I knew immediately that the two points were focal points of the elliptically-shaped hall. But the tour guide also shared that John Adams had his desk sitting at one of those bronze plaques on the floor and pretend he was sleeping. Actually, he could hear every word that was said among the other representatives. This is because his desk was at the point where all sound waves would bounce off the walls and over to the focal points. One of those points was where John Adams was sitting.

So what is wrong with this story?  John Adams served as our second president from 1797 to 1801. At the end of his one and only term, he retired and moved back to his home in Massachusetts.  While I love the math that is demonstrated in a beautiful and historic buildings, I also appreciate and know enough about  U.S. history to realize that John Adams did not serve as a representative in the original US capital in Washington, DC.  But I still can’t help but smile when I hear the story, as it so beautifully illustrates how much mathematics influences our world in unseen ways.

The Joy of X: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity

The Joy of X  by Steven Strogatz is a series of essays that explore the seemingly limitless span and beauty of mathematics underlying so much of our universe.   Strogatz’ exploration begins by considering the counting of the Sesame Street characters and extends to the unique and inviting applications of trigonometry, limits, and fractals.  But don’t let that scare you. His examples yield insights into the way mathematics influences politics, art, and nature. And, of course, he explores the way science and technology rely so heavily on mathematics as well.

The author takes a delightful approach by using concrete examples in order to illustrate an abstract concept that even the inexperienced and the less mathematically inclined can understand. A reader with a mathematical background will respond to Strogartz examples with such reactions of “I never thought of it like that!” or “I didn’t know that!”

Even if you’re not a math educator, you will find the material enlightening and enjoyable.

Coming Soon: The New Website

MetaMetrics®  is pleased to announce that the redesigned will be released on March 14, 2013. The site has been given an all-inclusive makeover, complete with a brand new look and feel, improved navigation and tablet and mobile compatibility.

The new will feature:

  • A slick, crisp, design
  • Tablet and mobile compatibility
  • New content and images
  • Redesigned tools such as the “Math Skills Database” and “Textbook Search” featuring improved functionality

In addition to these new site features, we are excited to announce “The Summer Math Challenge” a six-week, e-mail-based initiative designed to combat summer math loss. The initiative, based on the Common Core State Standards, will target students who have just completed grades 2 through 5. Parents will receive emails with resources and activities designed to help their kids retain the math skills learned during the previous school year.

We’d like to invite you to witness the unveiling of the new first hand. Join us March 14, from 3 to 4 PM EDT, and you just might win free pie! Three lucky people who participate in our “Happy Pi Day… Introducing the New” webinar will receive gift certificates for a free pie shipped nationwide from Porch Pies in Los Angeles, CA. For more information about the webinar, click here. Register today!

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MetaMetrics is an educational measurement organization. Our renowned psychometric team develops scientific measures of student achievement that link assessment with targeted instruction to improve learning.