Recently we learned of a worldwide mathematics project, the MegaMenger Project, devised by “stand-up mathematician” Matt Parker from Queen Mary University, London and Professor Laura Taalman from James Madison University, Virginia, and we wanted to get involved!
With the overall aim of raising public engagement with maths, we felt this was a cause we’d like to support. The project is being timed to coincide with the Martin Gardner Global Celebration of Mind Gatherings, marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of Martin Gardner, one of the greatest popularisers of mathematics of all time.
Kristin Coldwell, who is championing the project locally for the Further Maths Support Programme at the Centre for Mathematical Sciences in Cambridge, is organising one of 20 “build” sites for the MegaMenger Project right here in Cambridge. She also has the support of Cambridge University’s Millennium Mathematics Project, again with the aim of popularising maths among secondary school students and the general public.
The concept is a little complicated, being based around fractals, which Kristin says are “a fascinating area of maths outside the standard school curriculum, which is relatively modern and closely linked to art.” Fractals are objects created by repeating a particular process at successively smaller scales: essentially, an endless miniaturisation process. One example of this is the Menger Sponge, a series of cubes with cuboid holes punched through the walls in a regular pattern. The MegaMenger Project basically intends to create 20 of these “sponges” around the world on a grand scale. If put together, they would make a bigger sponge, and so on. (Clear as mud?!)
This project will be making the Menger Sponges from business cards – which is where we come in! We love the idea of promoting and popularising maths, and were only too happy to donate 48,000 cards to the project to help the build.
Locally, the idea is to involve secondary school students and the wider community. Kristin will be visiting schools, giving a short talk on the history and mathematics behind fractals, and getting the students involved in the actual build.
The components will be assembled into one large cube at the Centre for Mathematical Sciences (CMS), Cambridge University on Saturday 25th October, with the help of staff and student volunteers. Families and local residents will be invited along for the day, and there will be plenty of activities, information and promotional handouts. Hopefully there will also be live feeds between the 20 global sites to show the progress of each remote Menger Sponge.
Kristin says, “Mathematics often has a negative reputation among the general public as being difficult and boring – yet it is vital to modern society. Projects like this one aim to overcome some of these negative views and encourage young people to study mathematics further. I am very grateful to Victoire for donating the blank cards required to build the structure.”
For our part, we’re delighted to be involved, and look forward to seeing the cube being created and compared with the others being made all around the world. We may not fully understand the maths behind it, but we definitely do support the reasons for doing it!
If you’d like to find out more about the project or get involved, please visit http://www.megamenger.com/ or drop us a line and we’ll put you in touch with Kristin. We’d also like to wish everyone involved with the project the best of luck – and here’s hoping Cambridge’s contribution does us proud!