“Mathematics continues to invigorate and deliver innovative advances to our culture and society, yet the significance math played in their creation usually flies under our radar,” states Lou DiGioia, executive director of the MATHCOUNTS Foundation. In celebration of the 25 th anniversary year of MATHCOUNTS, the national math enrichment program for middle school students, we are calling out some of the most exciting and enthralling contributions math has made to our lives over the last 25 years. Have you thought about how much MATHCOUNTS?
Draft Track for ESPN: Airflow around cars on a NASCAR track is important to the outcome of the race, and now fans can see this previously invisible aspect on television. Draft Track uses a special algorithm to calculate the drafting around cars, and shows viewers how the air changes as cars change positions. It’s the NASCAR equivalent of the glowing puck in hockey, only it demonstrates how drivers strategically use air resistance to their advantage.
SETI@home Distributed Computing: Want to hunt for aliens? That’s precisely what the people involved with SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) are doing, and they want your help. Their SETI@home project recruits regular people to crunch big calculations by dividing them into smaller problems, and then sending them to be solved on home computers. Volunteers download special software that turns regular home computers into a part of a large computer network that distributes small pieces of big problems to all participants. No special qualifications are necessary to participate in the hunt, just a computer and an Internet connection.
Real-Time MRI: Magnetic Resonance Imaging has been around for a long time, but not until a mathematical solution in 1983 was it possible for people to get reliable, consistent information from inside their bodies. The technology has advanced so much that today doctors are perfecting real-time MRI: the ability to look into the body without having to perform surgery. The triangulation and numerous relative distance calculations require significant computation, but advancements in computer technology have sped up these processes to return near-instantaneous results.
Polling Extrapolation: These days, no politician waits until election day to predict the results at the polls. To win a race, campaigners ask a small number of people some questions and figure out what potential voters are thinking based upon the answers of the few. This educated guessing, called extrapolation, is employed in just about every political and public interest area today. Using this method allows candidates to better allocate their limited resources, address potential problems ahead of time, and test speeches and slogans before they go public.
Fantasy Sports: Twenty-five years ago, most people wouldn’t have believed math and sports would go hand-in-hand, but that’s precisely what fantasy sports has accomplished. In fantasy sports, players “pick” athletes or teams and score points based upon their performances in real life. It’s not just about how many homeruns A-Rod gets for the Yankees, it’s about how many runs he scored, his OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging), and other involved statistics. Fantasy statistics like K/BB and WhiP, and results that factor in infinity, demonstrate the significant role math plays in these games now pulling in over 100 million teams per year.
Computer Generated Imagery (
4) SPACE / NASA
NASA’s STI Resource Sharing: You no longer have to be a rocket scientist to do the math of NASA engineers. NASA’s Scientific and Technical Information (STI) Web site gives private citizens access to tens of thousands of pages of documents and information. Because of this, regular people are able to double-check, and sometimes correct, possible mistakes or oversights NASA has made in their calculations.
Voice Over IP (VOIP): Practically any digital device, such as a mobile phone or an Internet-connected computer, can work like a phone, and that’s because of VOIP. The protocol divides a stream of conversation into packets of data that are then handled like regular network traffic. Because of this an online game and a phone call look identical to a DSL line, and one doesn’t have to log off to make a phone call anymore.
Global Positioning Systems (GPS): A GPS system, such as a handset or one inside your car, takes readings from three or more satellites over 12,000 miles high. Calculating the distance to each satellite, a process known as triangulation, allows the device to figure out where you are in three dimensions. GPS mapping software can then overlay this information on a map to show your location, including elevation. Its uses are far-reaching, including safety, security and convenience.
MP3 Music Encoding: MP3, or MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3, is a compression algorithm that makes music sound clear,but take up less room. What it basically does is remove the parts of a recording that aren’t deemed necessary, such as ranges of sound beyond human hearing. It has revolutionized not just music, but the music industry. The advent of mp3 has created billion-dollar businesses (such as Apple’s iPod and iTunes), and changed the way people store and share digital media.
MATHCOUNTS is a national math enrichment, coaching & competition program that promotes middle school mathematics achievement in every