Work is the refuge of people who have nothing better to do. : Oscar Wilde

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Dazzling Careers

OK, I'm no genius and, chances are, you aren't either. But that's no excuse for the schlock that's offered in secondary schools, or most undergraduate courses, for that matter. For one thing the topics covered give much the wrong impression about what's possible and I suspect that a lot of people who think they have 'no mathematics ability,' for instance, are simply unaware of the vast array of mental aptitudes that are covered by mathematics.

You might have more than you think!

Did you know that map folding had anything to do with applied mathematics? (I didn't.) That's the Miura map fold in the picture, invented by astrophysicist Koryo Miura. Much better than ordinary folded maps, you can open and close it just by pulling and pushing at two corners. I learned about it from an interview of Professor L. Mahadevan of Harvard University on American public radio—who points out that nobody uses folding maps anymore anyway.

So why mention Mahadevan? Because I looked at the list of his recent publications. And I also watched this video. Mahadevan is living proof that there are people that use a whole variety of mathematical ideas outside of what we see as high school or undergraduate students and that they apply them to fascinating problems in the real world. Of course I'm not a Mahadevan; maybe you aren't either. That's why you should look at the list of MacArthur Award Winners for sources of inspiration in other kinds of careers.