ABOUT Dana Mackenzie

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Dana Mackenzie is a freelance mathematics and science writer for diverse science magazine and author of several books. His most recent book is The Universe in Zero Words: The Story of Mathematics as Told Through Equations, published in 2012 by Princeton University Press. He was the winner of the 2012 Communications Award presented by the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics. Besides writing, the two interests that have stuck with him the longest are chess and folk dancing. More about Dana at his website.


Dana Mackenzie: All Posts


Farewell to Heidelberg, plus N-Dimensional Volumes

Posted 1 October 2013 by Dana Mackenzie

Two days ago the Heidelberg Laureate Forum came to an end, with a grand farewell dinner at Heidelberg Castle. Back in July, when I was invited to join the blog team for the Heidelberg Laureate Forum, I didn't accept immediately. I was busy, and a week in Germany would definitely affect my writing schedule. For several days I sat on the fence, but what finally decided me was... the fact that we would have the closing dinner in a castle!... Read more

The Talk That Wasn’t

Posted 27 September 2013 by Dana Mackenzie

Today I had the real privilege of hearing Manuel Blum's talk at the Heidelberg Laureate Forum. It was about... "Wait a minute!" I hear you saying. "Manuel Blum didn't give a talk at the forum!" Well yes, that's right, he didn't. But at least he told me about the talk he would have given if he had chosen to give a talk. It was about... "Wait a minute!" says Eric Chung of Microsoft's eXtreme Computing Group. "Let me tell you... Read more

A Happy Mathematical Birthday

Posted 27 September 2013 by Dana Mackenzie

During yesterday’s boat ride on the Neckar River, I had the chance to interview one of the youngest participants in this year’s Heidelberg Laureate Forum: Lisa Sauermann, an undergraduate at the University of Bonn, who was celebrating her 21st birthday. Even at such a young age, she has already accomplished some amazing things. She is one of only five people ever to win four gold medals at the International Mathematics Olympiad (IMO), and in her last year (2011) she won... Read more

Amazing Rope Trick

Posted 26 September 2013 by Dana Mackenzie

Here's an amazing trick that Curtis McMullen performed in yesterday's workshop on Quantum Mechanics and Topology, organized by Ryan Grady. McMullen modestly declined to be photographed, so here Grady demonstrates the trick. Step 1: Thread the rope through a carabiner and hold the ends, as shown. Step 2: Clip a second carabiner through the two ends of the rope, taking care not to twist them. If properly done, the top carabiner should make a 90-degree angle with the bottom one.... Read more

Why So Few Mathematicians? (Followup)

Posted 25 September 2013 by Dana Mackenzie

In a previous post I discussed the question of why relatively few mathematical laureates came to the Heidelberg Laureate Forum. The question has continued to be much discussed at the meeting, and I have heard at least three more theories that I think may have some validity. I offer these theories in an attempt to be helpful about how to improve the meeting in the future. In my first post I discussed two possibilities: The timing was bad. (This was... Read more

Dances, Billiards, and Pretzels

Posted 24 September 2013 by Dana Mackenzie

When I came to the Heidelberg Laureate Forum, I expected a feast for my mind. I didn't expect a feast for my eyes! Take a look at this incredible video, by Diana Davis, which was featured in today's lecture by Fields medalist Curtis McMullen. Davis, who is now at Brown University, submitted this video to a competition called Dance Your Ph.D., and won first prize in the Physics category. (Yes, mathematics is a subfield of physics for the purpose of... Read more

Why So Few Mathematicians?

Posted 23 September 2013 by Dana Mackenzie

I wasn't going to write about this. I was going to keep it to myself. But then Klaus Tschira, the chairperson of the HLF Foundation, mentioned it in his welcoming speech, and he didn't mince words. "Some may feel there are not many mathematicians present," Tschira said. "Personally, I feel very sorry about this." The number of living laureates of the Fields and Abel prizes (the two math prizes represented at this meeting) is roughly equal to the number of... Read more

In Love With Geometry

Posted 23 September 2013 by Dana Mackenzie

For generations, geometers have gotten used to not being able to see the objects that they prove theorems about. It’s a somewhat sad development in a subject that began in Euclid’s day with the splendidly visual concepts of points, lines, triangles, circles, conic sections and the like. But at the same time, it seemed like a necessary price for progress. Even in ancient Greece it became clear that pictures could fool you, and that abstract arguments (the “theorem-proof” approach of... Read more

A Warrior for the Blind

Posted 17 September 2013 by Dana Mackenzie

Why should sighted people have all the fun? Kyle Rector, one of the young participants in this year's Heidelberg Laureate Forum, doesn't think they should. As part of her dissertation research on “eyes-free technology” at the University of Washington, with professors Julie Kientz and Richard Ladner, Rector has written a computer program that enables blind people to learn yoga from a computer. A Microsoft Kinect "watches" the movements of a blind yoga student performing, say, a Warrior 2 pose. If... Read more