BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: Mathematics

Who’s Smarter: Girls vs. Boys?

According to the legendary myth, boys are smarter in science, technology, engineering and mathematic fields due to biological deficiencies in math aptitude. Recent studies show that this is not true. A study, by Jessica Cantlon at Carnegie Mellon University, evaluates 104 young children by scanning their brain activity while watching an educational video. When the scans were compared, it showed that both groups were equally engaged while watching the videos and there was no difference in how boys and girls processed math skills. To further this study, researchers compared brain maturity in connection to skill, by using brain scans of adults who watched the same educational video. Which concluded that the brains scans in adults and children -of both genders-  were statistically equivalent. This study confirmed the idea that math activities, in both genders, take place in the intraparietal suclus, which is the area of the brain involved in processing numbers, addition and subtraction, and estimating.

So, why are mathematic and computer science fields predominantly males? Well, it could be for the held stereotype that women and girls are biologically inferior at mathematics. This conventional image could also be linked to the fact that females were prevented from pursuing higher education until the 19th century. To show this unconscious bias, an Implicit Association Test was taken by employers. This test reveals an unconscious bias by forcing you to quickly group various words together. If the word man was immediately linked to math, then an implicit bias is shown. This study unveiled the prejudice that men were twice as likely to be hired for a simple math job since, men and women employers displayed a prejudice against women for a perceived lack of mathematical skill.

Math Sucks!

Many people, including myself, hate, or have a strong disliking for math. Math, as I see it, is the study of just a bunch of random numbers and symbols, thrown together, that mean virtually nothing. It is intangible. How much worse can it get? Often times, when I “do” math, I ask myself: how is this going to benefit me in the future? The answer is: it won’t! According to a recent study, all math has in store for me, and other math haters out there, is pain. So all of those long, seemingly endless hours of doing math, have just caused suffering. This is just wonderful.

At The University of Chicago, a team of researchers, including Ian Lyons, discovered that worrying about math can activate regions of the brain, associated with physical pain. People who experience high levels of anxiety, or anxiety at all, when expecting something math related task, sustain increased activity in regions of the brain connected with physical pain. The higher the individuals’ anxiety is, the greater the brain activity is.

The research was done on 14 individuals, who experience math anxiety, according to a survey that was completed. The questions, on the survey, asked about their feelings when encountering anything math related, and measured their anxiety based on their answers. Additional testing concluded that the individual chosen, were not generally anxious people. Their elevated levels of anxiety were a product of math.

After completing the survey, the test subjects were tested in an fMRI machine, while faced with math related tasks. Some of the tasks included: solving equations, in addition to completing word problems.The fMRI scans showed that the anxiety of anticipating math, activated a reaction, in the brain, similar to physical pain. The worse the anxiety is, the more active the brain becomes. The region of the brain that is responsible for this is the posterior insula.

Mac and Cheese Mathematics

Tonight I plan on cooking some mac and cheese. So I went to the store and bought some pasta called Campanelle. Ever hear of it? It resembles a small bell or flower, depending on how you turn it. What if I told you that the Campanelle pasta has a unique mathematical equation to it, that when entered into a program would create a digital rendering of that particular pasta? No, I’m not lying!

An article from The New York Times reports that a Mr. Huisman discovered after dinner one day that the pasta he was eating was a very interesting shape. He decided to give it a go in his computer software Mathematica, and try to discover the equation that creates different pieces of pasta. Miraculously, he was able to come up with the equation, and many more as well!

Photo Credit: Beau Maes

Mr. Huisman may not have been the pioneer of such work however, because in London, two architects were thinking the same thing. Marco Guarnieri and George L. Legendre began to toy with the idea of pasta’s having equations too. Eventually, such experimenting gave way to Legendre’s 208 page book: “Pasta by Design“. Not even this was enough for Mr. Legendre, however,  because he was prompted to create a new kind of pasta! It is named ioli, for his baby daughter, and although it was planned to have about 100 pounds ordered, the production has stopped because of difficulties keeping the ends together.

I wish I could create a new kind of pasta. What would you guys make yours look like? What would you name it? Do you think you will buy Mr. Legendre’s book?

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