The Royal Society’s 2009 Summer Science Exhibition

Penrose tiling: how nature and art fill spaces

If you’re in central London tonight, or during the day this week, you should find a few moments to stop by The Royal Society. The national academy of science of the UK and the Commonwealth is staging their Summer Science Exhibition. Not only are they putting on a week of exhibits from the cutting edge of science but also featuring involved scientists themselves for you to ask questions of.

What a cool opportunity. This is a direct public-engagement event. You can look at items and exhibits and models lots of places, but how often do you get a chance to ask questions of a real, live scientist? There’s a list of exhibitshere, along with writeups that indicate which ones might be good for kids.

From their site:

We’ve got over 20 fascinating, diverse and interactive exhibits. Fields of study range from how fluorescent fish could provide better understanding of human diseases, to a chewing robot that can help us develop dental technology, to how new space missions could help to unlock the history of the universe.

There’s also a good writeup at Nature Network’s London blog about the exhibition.

You can find info on how to get there and what their hours are here.

Cannes film festival falls in love with maths

Hypatia of Alexandria was an ancient Greek mathematician, most notable for being the first famous female maths scholar. In addition to writing commentaries on and editing some of the most famous early works of maths, like Arithmetica and Euclid’s Elements, she’s said to have done work in astronomy, measuring the relative density of liquids, and possibly independently developing an astrolabe.

A new film – named Agora – based on the life of Hypatia, who’s played in the movie by Rachel Weisz, has received big cheers at Cannes. That’s pretty cool: Greek mathematicians aren’t your typical silver-screen subjects.

Advances in maths strengthen IT security

Another interesting ScienceDaily article, this one about mathematics and IT security methods.

Cryptography – the science of hiding information – is used to secure internet communications and commerce. Most internet cryptography uses a technique called RSA which relies on the difficulty inherent in determining factors for very large integers.

In recent decades mathematicians have developed techniques using elliptical functions to more easily do large-number factorisation. While this implies RSA encryption is easier to break using these methods, salvation has come from those same elliptical functions. They can themselves be used as a form of encryption.

In recent years this elliptic curve cryptography has gained attention. Since it’s newer it’s not prone to the majority of crypto-attacks, which have been developed to attack RSA. But it’s also been shown that you can get the same level of protection with elliptical encryption by using a much smaller encryption key than is needed for RSA. This makes it more computationally efficient, and helps keeps ahead of those who would attack and break those systems of protection.