Intersections matter

Saturday, February 23rd 2019, on Australia’s essential public broadcaster, the ABC’s Radio National, Robyn Williams reported from America where he was talking to people in the sciences and in political science. They spoke about the necessity for intersections, cross connections between the sciences and the impact of politics.Scientists know, and now so do all the people who live with more and more of these extreme events across the world, global warming is real. We also know the profit-makers in the old fossil fuel industries do not care about the impact of going on polluting the world. The atmosphere has no boundaries: neither do the oceans. Do visit Robyn’s latest program.

Essential intersections are the connections between mathematics and the humanities. 
I invite you to meet JoAnne Growney. She recognises we need to move to STEAM. She lives in Maryland, was Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science and now has this blog. 
Visit:  Intersections – Poetry with mathematics.

“Mathematical language can heighten the imagery of a poem; mathematical structure can deepen its effect. Feast here on an international menu of poems made rich by mathematical ingredients . . . gathered by JoAnne Growney, Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science. She posted this on ‘President’s Day’ in the US:   

George Washington, cherry tree, lifespan . . .

Monday February 18th, in the US we celebrate Presidents’ Day — including the birthday of George Washington (on February 22, 1732).  In the 1970s, telling stories to my young children, I became fascinated by the allegations that the story of George Washington’s admission that he cut down a cherry tree was a story invented after our first President’s death (in 1799).  (See The life of George Washington : with curious anecdotes, equally honourable to himself and exemplary to his young countrymen by M. L Weems).  Our lives are too short! — expressed somewhat gloomily in the following life-counting stanza by Isaac Watts (1674-1748).

       OUR days, alas ! our mortal days,
          Are short and wretched too !
       ” Evil and few !”  the Patriarch says,
          And well the Patriarch knew !
       ‘Tis but at best, a narrow bound,
         That Heaven allots to men ;
       And pains and sins run through the round,
          Of three-score years and ten !

Posted by JoAnne Growney at 10:07 AM

Transdisciplinary thinkers

Why arts and science are better together.’  The Conversation AU June 25, 2013.

Authors – Professor Benjamin Miller, School of Psychology and Fiona White, Lecturer in Writing and Rhetoric, University of Sydney, NSW, Australia.

Benjamin Miller is a coordinator of a single three-year degree that combines both arts and science – the Bachelor of Liberal Arts and Science (BLAS) degree.

Fiona White receives funding from the Australian Research Council and Office of Learning and Teaching. She is also a coordinator of a single three-year degree that combines both arts and science – the Bachelor of Liberal Arts and Science (BLAS) degree.

The article – reduced here – was their contribution to The Conversation’s MATHS AND SCIENCE EDUCATION series. Six years on, in 2019, I wonder how many universities follow this thoughtful cross-disciplinary collaborative direction?  The review of the Australian national curriculum for schools in 2015 removed connections previously developed in reviews in which potential connections, for example, between sustainability and mathematics, had a place in the thinking of the curriculum reviewers.

Transdisciplinary learning

Miller and White wrote: “The arts and science are often thought of as polar opposites. Traditionally, students and universities view them as separate entities – you pick a degree in one or the other and stick to your side of the fence.

Increasingly though, this way of doing things is not enough to prepare students for the data-drenched and volatile workplace of the twenty-first century.

Combining arts and science in the curriculum could be the answer. From science, students learn about sound methods for testing hypotheses, and about interpreting and drawing valid conclusions from data. From arts, they will also learn about developing arguments, and about understanding, moving, and changing the minds of diverse audiences.

There are double and combined degrees already on offer. But there is a great potential for them to be better – improving students’ employment prospects and fostering new skills in “the space between” – in speciality areas.

The untapped potential of combining curricula

In their study into the popularity of double degrees, higher education researchers Wendy Russell, Sara Dolnicar and Marina Ayoub suggested that:

double degree programs have significant untapped potential in preparing graduates for employment.

The potential benefit, they argue, is that graduates develop “transdisciplinary skills” that are highly valued by employers.

Transdisciplinary thinkers take a unique approach to solving problems. They draw information from diverse sources and seek collaborations to produce “socially robust knowledge”. However, the way most combined and double degrees are established does not foster transdisciplinary learning.”

In that 2013 article Benjamin Miller and Fiona White wanted pedagogically based double degrees not ones that were merely administratively based.

Their conclusion connects with the reason for this blog. We are in desperate need of thoughtful voters in our democracies. For example, they could refuse to elect people who are willfully ignorant. Consider the impact for the future of those now in power who have called climate change crap or who will not accept that phrase. They are willfully undermining their nation’s move to clean energy. They are betraying the children who must deal with what those in power are doing as they make decisions that favour fossil fuel companies.

2018’s Billion-Dollar Disasters Show Weather & Climate Impacts Across the U.S. Look at 2018, published Feb 6th 2019.

“After all,” say Miller and White, “while few would doubt the value of disciplined thinking, isn’t our goal also to prepare students for lifelong learning in an undisciplined world?”  I would add this: adults need the same. They were probably in school when subjects were ‘silos’. As citizens they create the future for the young. [See the whole article in the June 25th 2013 issue of The Conversation.]

Why pomegranates?

Pomegranates through the humanities.

Living plants bring life to us but pomegranates speak to us through ancient history, religion, politics, the arts and design. And, they have provided a clean energy-saving design idea for a team of lateral thinking scientists.

In Pomegranates: A Timeline History, we have story after story, covering their beginning, through ancient civilizations to their role as symbols in religions that still have a powerful influence on the lives of people across the globe. Explore this at your leisure through Pomegranates: A Timeline History and Food Faith. In politics, see why they were chosen as his heraldic badge by Henry IV of France. [A message for those in power today?] Carl Linnaeus names them Punica Granatum. [Find the connection with Punic Wars] See where they come in the French Republican calendar in 1793.                A

Pomegranates in science.

Check their nutritional value. Then there is this article in Cosmos 56 April-May 2014.

In Australia, despite continued pressure from fossil fuel interests, those who care about the quality of the future in this time of global warming are focusing on battery storage to ensure clean energy supply.

Pomegranates inspire new battery design’.

It is their structure and the seeds this time. The seeds alone were significant in the ancient Greek myth of the creation of the seasons. Philip Dooley writes: “A structural breakthrough could pave the way for a shift from carbon to silicon that would multiply energy storage 10 times.”   This article appeared in Cosmos 56 – Apr-May 2014 under the headline “Pomegranates inspire new battery design” Explore #Pomegranates #electricity storage #battery #lithium

Phil Dooley is an Australian freelance writer, presenter, musician and video-maker. He has a PhD in laser physics, has been a science communicator for the world’s largest fusion experiment JET and has performed in science shows and festivals from Adelaide to Glasgow.

It’s amazing what you can do with a pomegranate. Humans have used the fruit for thousands of years as a tonic for the heart, a cure for diarrhoea and a female contraceptive. And now, in research published in Nature Nanotechnology this February, for electricity storage.”

This time, it is not the fruit itself being used but its structure. It has inspired an ingenious new design for lithium batteries that could increase their capacity many times over.” Read the whole article with pictures of pomegranate and the ‘nano-seeds’ – #Pomegranates #electricity storage #battery #lithium


Thank you Martin Rees

Thank your Martin Rees. In On the Future: Prospects for Humanity, published by Princeton University, Princeton and Oxford, 2018, you take us, the general reader, so clearly to the far future. As Astronomer Royal, that is to be expected. In Chapter 5, ‘Conclusions’, however, you bring us back to the here and now with ‘Science in Society.’ We need, you say, to make wise choices about major challenges to society. In a democracy, that means we require knowledge about issues that matter: they include food, health, energy, robotics and space. To make these wise choices citizens, voters, need an understanding of each other across the sciences and humanities. That applies to so many of us previously denied those connections. The use of the word ‘feel’ is of major importance. It is the felt connection that helps us to make the wiser decision. Martin Rees says we need ‘enough feel for the key ideas of science.’ [p. 213]. Critics say that his short accessible book helps us face with hope major situations that could be catastrophic. Given what he calls our ‘collective intelligence’ voters, from across diverse areas of study, can vote for the choices that will help us deal wisely with these issues. Living in the Southern Hemisphere, I thank Martin Rees. We made a mistake in Australia’s national curriculum.  Since 2015, we have been basing pre-tertiary schooling on separate sets of acronyms. There is HASS – Humanities, Arts, Social, Sciences, separated from STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. As a teacher who values interdisciplinary engagement, I thank all secondary schools where teachers refuse to be confined by this divide.  I thank all who encourage students to recognise connections. Preference for STEAM, bringing the Arts into the story, creates opportunities to develop this ‘collective intelligence’. With it voters can choose a wiser pathway.

Thank you Roald Hoffmann

Nobel Laureate Professor Roald Hoffmann, quantum chemist, poet and playwright, writes of the need for informed citizens.

My reason for setting up this blog is my concern for the quality of democracy.. We need an educated democracy if we are to consider the future for children in a more thoughtful way. To that end, I invite anyone who joins me on this journey to consider, as a point of beginning, these words by Nobel Laureate Professor Roald Hoffmann, winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, quantum chemist, poet and playwright.

In a collection of essays for students in USA he takes on issues in chemistry related to ‘Value, Harm and Democracy’ in The Same and Not The Same, published by Columbia University Press, New York, 1995. In the light of the behaviour of the kind of politicians we are putting in power, he reminds us, in this final paragraph of Essay 45, ‘Chemistry, Education and Democracy’, of what he expects of chemistry courses in the secondary level. “They must be aimed primarily at the non-science student, as the informed citizen, not towards the professional.” He does not see this approach being a disadvantage to the potential ‘brilliant transformers of matter’.  He needs us to understand what chemists do. And we need to engage with it at a secondary level. Moreover, it might encourage more girls, than it has in the past, to consider further study in this discipline.

In the penultimate paragraph he explains why he is concerned by our ignorance of chemistry. Speaking of democracy, he writes: “But experts do not have the mandate: the people and their representatives do. The people have also a responsibility – they need to learn enough chemistry to be able to resist the seductive words of, yes, chemical experts who can be assembled to support any nefarious activity you please.” [p 228]