by Vagn Lundsgaard Hansen, chair of EMS--committee on WMY 2000
Raising Public Awareness of Mathematics (RPAMaths) is probably the most important goal originally set for the World Mathematical Year 2000. And there are good reasons for that.
The role of mathematics in society is subtle and not generally recognized in the needs of people in everyday life and most often it remains totally hidden in scientific and technological advancements. The old saying ``The one who lives hidden lives best" is not true in present day society. If a subject becomes invisible, it may soon be forgotten and eventually it may even disappear.
Mathematics has a prominent place in school curricula all over the world and probably nobody can imagine such a fate for our subject. But if we do not constantly care about the image of mathematics, we will see continuing pressures to lower the amount of mathematics at primary schools, secondary schools and at the university level. Mathematics is exciting to many people but at the same time is considered difficult and somewhat inaccessible by more. Since mathematics is a fundamental cornerstone in several diverse areas of society, it is important for civilization as a whole that mathematicians do their utmost to help explaining and clarifying the role of mathematics.
In the back of their minds most people find that mathematics is important, but they may have forgotten why. We have to find ways of informing them. Displaying posters with mathematical messages at public places, making videos, producing booklets, arranging exhibitions and activities related to mathematics, in particular to the contents of the posters, can prove to be very effective in such an endeavour.
Indeed we hope so. On March 3--5, 2000 the European Mathematical Society organized a meeting in Paris between the partners in a contract with the European Commission under the program Raising Public Awareness of Science and Technology, where such things were on the agenda. There are two other partners in the contract, a team in Paris under direction of professor Mireille Chaleyat-Maurel and a team in Bangor, UK, under direction of professor Ronnie Brown. The main impact of the coordinated campaign resulting from the contract should be obtained during the European Science and Technology Week, November 6--12, 2000, but much of the material prepared for the campaign will undoubtedly be useful in many other contexts for years to come.
In the spring of 1999, the European Mathematical Society arranged a competition to encourage the idea of creating posters with a mathematical theme that would catch the eye and be representative of mathematics and its uses. The posters submitted for the competition are now included in a web-gallery: http://www.mat.dtu.dk/ems-gallery .
Several of the posters from the competition have already been used, or will be used, in various contexts. At the moment, I know of such uses of ideas in the posters from the competition in Canada, Germany, France, UK, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Denmark.
The posters from the EMS-competition and several other posters were presented and discussed intensely during the meeting. By the end of the meeting a brainstorm was conducted to bring forward even more ideas.
The Paris team is responsible for the final selection and production of the posters to be used during the European Science and Technology Week. I am confident that the team shall produce some graphically attractive and mathematically interesting posters to the general public. Electronic files of the posters will be made available for use in appropriate contexts.
The production of CD-roms and Video clips was presented by Ronnie Brown from the Bangor team, which is responsible for this part of the contract on RPAMaths. He was assisted by Mike Yates, who is the owner of the company SUMit Software, which will be doing the detailed work on the CD-roms. The progress can be followed on the web site for the project: http://www.bangor.ac.uk/ma/CPM/rpamath . Feedback is encouraged to improve the final result.
The experiences of the Bangor team gained in connection with their 1989 Exhibition `Mathematics and Knots' and the subsequent web site building on sculptures and on knots in 1996-7 (links from the above rpamath site) are most valuable and makes me confident that the part of the RPAMaths project on CD-rom and Video clips will be successful. Also these products will be made available for appropriate uses.
To explain the contents of the posters, CD-roms and Video clips, small booklets will be produced and made available at relevant places.
The EMS-committee of the WMY 2000 is also interested in collecting knowledge of articles about mathematics appearing in major national newspapers in different countries; hopefully such articles can be translated into several languages and be of use in other countries. Material can be sent to me on the address mentioned below.
The RPAMaths project as a whole relies on considerable efforts of individuals in several European countries taking time out of their usual positions to work for this project. The contract with the European Commission is very much appreaciated as a means to get all this working, but clearly it covers only a modest part of the campaign compared to the collected efforts made by individual members of the mathematical community. We are greatly indepted to everybody working on making the World Mathematical Year 2000 a successful year.
Professor Vagn Lundsgaard Hansen Department of Mathematics Technical University of Denmark Building 303 Dk-2800 Kongens Lyngby Denmark V.L.Hansen@mat.dtu.dk
Ronnie Brown and Mike Yates attended from Bangor. We both found the meeting very stimulating in meeting people, and in seeing the current achievements and future plans of our partners.
Mike's company SUMit Software is subcontractor to the project at Bangor, and will be doing the detailed work on the CDRoms, for which there has been considerable discussion on planning. Mike is an Honorary Professor at Bangor, and also Professor Emeritus at Manchester University, where he was Professor of Mathematical Logic till 1980. He now has ten years experience in educational software, part of it working with a strong multimedia company in Liverpool.
Mike has already redeveloped the web site for the project (http://www.bangor.ac.uk/ma/CPM/rpamath). Contributions to this, and comments, are welcomed, especially those which show the broad nature of the collaborations on this project. The web site is important for showing what is being done. Suggestions, comments, files, links,... should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ronnie Brown gave a computer presentation explaining the methodological principles underlying the construction of the 1989 Exhibition `Mathematics and Knots' by the Bangor team R. Brown, N.D. Gilbert, T. Porter. These principles were in two parts: (i) structure, and (ii) content.
(i)Structure: The exhibition was designed to be reproducible, transportable, not requiring management and supervision. We were fortunate to have excellent graphic design advice over the design period of four years to attain these ends.
(ii)Content: This we feel was the most original part. The title should really be `Mathematics through Knots', since the aim was to explain some basic methods of mathematics to the general public. Thus part of the intention was to show mathematics as valuable in itself, and to show how the pursuit of these methods and aims led to applications which could not be seen from the start.
We also came to realise that the exhibition format is one of the hardest. It is not enough to show things, or ideas; there has to be an overlying philosophy, an intention on the impression that is to be conveyed to the viewer, and each aspect of the exhibition has to fit with that intention. Each board has to tell a story in itself, as far as possible by graphical means, and yet each board has to be related to the others.
It should now be clear why the development and realisation of this structure took four years!
The methods which were displayed through knots were: representation; classification; invariants; breaking a complicated object or procedure into simple parts; laws; analogy; applications.
Part of the overall aims were: advanced mathematics from an elementary viewpoint; making mathematics concrete.
Putting the exhibition on the web in 1997 allowed the description of these aims, and much other material, to be incorporated into various levels of the hypertext, keeping the original boards at the top level. Thus the web format turns out to be a wonderful and flexible tool.
An unforeseen consequence of making the exhibition was the collaboration with the sculptor John Robinson, and the web sites of his sculptures and the knot exhibition are expected to form a core of the CDROm(s) in preparation for the RPAMath project.
Acknowledgements: The main support for the original exhibition came from COPUS (Committee for the Public Understanding of Science), and for the web presentation from the Philip Trust and the London Mathematical Society.
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