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Raising Public Awareness of Mathematics

Ehrhard Behrends, Nuno Crato, and José Francisco Rodrigues, editors
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
[Reviewed by
Charles Ashbacher
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While many people semi-proudly wear the badge of “not being good at math,” everyone realizes how important mathematics is in the modern world. Furthermore, avenues such as internet and smartphone apps can now be used to transfer information about mathematics and how it is used to anyone that is connected. Therefore, the major hurdle in educating the public about the uses and value of mathematics is the will, among those that understand it, to make some effort to spread the word.

In this book, people that have developed public outreach programs on mathematics (primarily in European countries) describe their actions and the results. Of course, some activities seem to have been more effective than others. While a small amount of this is due to differences in cultural context, most of the successes can be repeated in any country.

The key is to present mathematics in a way that is both understandable and has an element of fun. Some of the most attractive applications used to enlighten the public are topology, origami, art and sculpture, computer renderings of images, the mathematics of currency, and mathematics in entertainment. The developers use everything from webpages to local workshops in their efforts to communicate mathematics to the general public in their region.

One pleasing feature in this book is the mention of the organization, Scientists in the World (SiW). It is a non-governmental organization (NGO) and the article describes some of the mathematical education projects that SiW has created in developing countries.

All mathematicians have some level of responsibility to become evangelists for their profession beyond their standard teaching responsibilities. The importance of mathematical knowledge to the world is much too important to do anything else. There is no question that the general public is convincible regarding the value of mathematics; underneath their fear is often a genuine respect for the subject. This collection of essays will give you many ways that mathematicians can spread the word regarding such a critical subject in the modern world.

Charles Ashbacher splits his time between consulting with industry in projects involving math and computers, teaching college classes and co-editing The Journal of Recreational Mathematics. In his spare time, he reads about these things and helps his daughter in her lawn care business.