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Until the penny drops



Is maths always complicated and boring? In his lecture „Mathematical Experiments“ Albrecht Beutelspacher, professor of mathematics at Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen, gave the answer: No!

On 22nd August, he presented entertaining and amazing experiments around mathematics for the lecture series „Wissenschaft für Alle“. Beutelspacher is founder of the Mathematikum in Gießen and awarded with the „Communicator Award“ of the German Research Foundation for his achievements in the communication of science.

At GSI, he showed his audience how often maths appears in daily life even when one does not expect it. For his lecture he brought a lot of mathematical experiments or to say it scientifically: a maximum of mathematical experiments per time.

About 350 attenders in the GSI lecture room and via live broadcast in the entrance hall took part in solving puzzles. „The most important moment within a mathematical experiment is that point when something in your brain changes“, said Beutelspacher. „That’s the moment when the penny drops."

How to create a spatial body out of pentagons and how does this body result in a football? Where does the Tetrapack come from? Often, daily things have a regular geometric shape. This not only looks better, but is also far easier to produce.

Besides taking away the anxiety of geometric shapes, Beutelspacher showed his audience that calculating is nothing to be afraid of either. Big numbers can look daunting. But with the right tricks you can even have fun with it. To solve a task like 885 times 936 without a calculator seems to take some effort. But with the right trick, for example from China or India, it is possible to solve it within a little while. „Other cultures just use a different software in their minds to calculate“, said Beutelspacher.

The solutions were as facinating as the experiments were simple. Every spectator heard the penny drop – and showed it with a big applause.

Karl Heinz and Charlotte Thode attended „Wissenschaft für Alle“ for the first time and were exited after the lecture. „We never thought that maths can be so entertaining“, said the married couple from Darmstadt. „In school maths was rather dry, but here we got delighted.“

And when Beutelspacher creates two connected hearts by cutting two bonded, twisted rings into two, for sure he woke some love for maths in each heart of the audience.

Further Information

Wissenschaft für Alle (German)

Mathematikum Gießen

Beutelspacher presents a Chinese calculating trick.
For the mathematical experiments you only need a sheet of paper.
Photo: L.Weitz / GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung