Tag Archives: Science

November 8, 2011, 6:52 am

Is math too hard? Or just not interesting enough?

The title of this NY Times article making the rounds in the blogosphere is titled “Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just So Darn Hard)”. But it seems like the real reason that 40% of university students today who plan on careers in the STEM disciplines end up changing into other fields or dropping out is only partly about the hardness of the subjects. What are the other parts?  Read this:

But, it turns out, middle and high school students are having most of the fun, building their erector sets and dropping eggs into water to test the first law of motion. The excitement quickly fades as students brush up against the reality of what David E. Goldberg, an emeritus engineering professor, calls “the math-science death march.” Freshmen in college wade through a blizzard of calculus, physics and chemistry in lecture halls with hundreds of other students. And then many wash …

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November 12, 2008, 8:36 am

Shortages in SMET fields: Not just for Americans

The Australians are also facing critical shortages of students choosing to study science, math, engineering, and technology (SMET) fields:

“It is no exaggeration to say that the relative decline in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics capability and literacy of South Australian school students is a very serious situation that requires decisive remedial action by the government,” said Engineers Australia state president Bill Filmer.

“There is an urgent need for reprioritisation in schools, staffing and curricula to overcome this problem to enable South Australia to be more competitive in the knowledge-based economy.”

The report also identified the lack of training in science given to primary school teachers as a key issue and questioned their commitment to teaching science. [Emphasis added]

As to that last sentence above, insofar as I can understand the teacher education…

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August 19, 2008, 9:21 am

Simon Singh versus… the chiropractors?

British science writer Simon Singh has a special place of respect here at Casting Out Nines for his outstanding  crypto survey The Code Book and for personally helping my upper-level topics students get their hands on a copy back in 2003. One usually associates him with high-quality intellectual discourse on science and its impact on society. So I thought I was not fully awake this morning when I read this in his email newsletter:

As some of you may have heard, I am being sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association. I cannot say much at the moment, but I will return to the subject in due course. In the meantime, thanks for the emails of support and the various blogs backing my position. I have not had time to reply – as you can imagine, I am fairly busy at the moment – but the support is much appreciated.

Huh? Well, evidently, Singh wrote an editorial in The Guardian…

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August 8, 2008, 11:20 am

Culture vs. science education

Peter Wood has a tour de force editorial today in the Chronicle, titled “How Culture Keeps Our Students Out of Science”. Snippet:

Students respond more profoundly to cultural imperatives than to market forces. In the United States, students are insulated from the commercial market’s demand for their knowledge and skills. That market lies a long way off — often too far to see. But they are not insulated one bit from the worldview promoted by their teachers, textbooks, and entertainment. From those sources, students pick up attitudes, motivations, and a lively sense of what life is about. School has always been as much about learning the ropes as it is about learning the rotes. We do, however, have some new ropes, and they aren’t very science-friendly. Rather, they lead students who look upon the difficulties of pursuing science to ask, “Why bother?”

[...] A century ago, Max Weber wrote…

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June 8, 2008, 8:26 pm

Algebra meets astrophysics

Abstract algebra and astrophysics don’t have much to do with each other, right? Well, perhaps not, after all. Here’s a story about the results from a researcher in gravitational lensing being used to prove an extension of the Fundamental Theorem of Algebra to rational harmonic functions. Snippet:

In 2004, [mathematicians Dmitry Khavinson and Genevra Neumann] proved that for one simple class of rational harmonic functions, there could never be more than 5n – 5 solutions. But they couldn’t prove that this was the tightest possible limit; the true limit could have been lower.

It turned out that Khavinson and Neumann were working on the same problem as [astrophysicist Sun Hong Rhie]. To calculate the position of images in a gravitational lens, you must solve an equation containing a rational harmonic function.

When mathematician Jeff Rabin of the University of California, San Diego, US,…

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May 27, 2008, 3:04 pm

How big is 10 to the 20th?

Here’s a great illustration from George Gamow’s classic book One Two Three… Infinity which shows two things: just how big \(10^{20}\) really is, when thought of as a scaling factor; and also the power of a good illustration to drive home a point about math or science. The picture shows a normal-sized astronomer observing the Milky Way galaxy when shrunk down by a factor of \(10^{20}\). 

That’s a big number, folks. 

Gamow’s book is one of several on my summer reading list, and there’s a reason it’s a classic. In particular, it’s chock full of cool illustrations like this that convey more information about a science concept than an hour’s worth of lecturing.