In 1985, cosmonaut Vladimir Dzhanibekov commanded a mission to repair the space station Salyut-7. During the operation, he flicked a wing-nut to remove it. As it left the end of the bolt, the nut continued to spin in space, but every few seconds, it turned over through . Although the angular momentum did not change, the rotation axis moved in the body frame. The nut continued to flip back and forth, although there were no forces or torques acting on it.

Continue reading ‘The Intermediate Axis Theorem’### The Intermediate Axis Theorem

Published December 12, 2019 Occasional Leave a CommentTags: Mechanics

### A New Mathematical Discovery from Neutrino Physics

Published December 5, 2019 Irish Times Leave a CommentTags: Physics

Although abstract in character, mathematics has concrete origins: the greatest advances have been inspired by the natural world. Recently, a new result in linear algebra was discovered by three physicists trying to understand the behaviour of neutrinos [TM176 or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

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### Archimedes and the Volume of a Sphere

Published November 28, 2019 Occasional Leave a CommentTags: Archimedes, Geometry

One of the most remarkable and important mathematical results obtained by Archimedes was the determination of the volume of a sphere. Archimedes used a technique of sub-dividing the volume into slices of known cross-sectional area and adding up, or integrating, the volumes of the slices. This was essentially an application of a technique that was — close to two thousand years later — formulated as integral calculus.

Continue reading ‘Archimedes and the Volume of a Sphere’### Airport Baggage Screening with X-Ray Tomography

Published November 21, 2019 Irish Times Leave a CommentTags: Algorithms

When you check in your baggage for a flight, it must be screened before it is allowed on the plane. Baggage screening detects threats within luggage and personal belongings by x-ray analysis as they pass along a conveyor belt. Hold-baggage and passenger screening systems are capable of detecting contraband materials, narcotics, explosives and weapons [TM175 or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

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### Elliptic Trigonometry: Fun with “sun”, “cun” and “dun”

Published November 14, 2019 Occasional Leave a CommentTags: Analysis, Trigonometry

** Introduction **

The circular functions arise from ratios of lengths in a circle. In a similar manner, the elliptic functions can be defined by means of ratios of lengths in an ellipse. Many of the key properties of the elliptic functions follow from simple geometric properties of the ellipse.

Originally, Carl Gustav Jacobi defined the elliptic functions , , using the integral

He called the *amplitude* and wrote . It can be difficult to understand what motivated his definitions. We will define the elliptic functions , , in a more intuitive way, as simple ratios associated with an ellipse.

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### The Vastness of Mathematics: No One Knows it All

Published November 7, 2019 Irish Times Leave a CommentTags: Education, History

No one person can have mastery of the entirety of mathematics. The subject has become so vast that the best that can be achieved is a general understanding and appreciation of the main branches together with expertise in one or two areas [TM174 or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

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### An Attractive Spinning Toy: the Phi-TOP

Published October 31, 2019 Occasional Leave a CommentTags: Mechanics

It is fascinating to watch a top spinning. It seems to defy gravity: while it would topple over if not spinning, it remains in a vertical position as long as it is spinning rapidly.

There are many variations on the simple top. The gyroscope has played a vital role in navigation and in guidance and control systems. Many similar rotating toys have been devised. These include rattlebacks, tippe-tops and the Euler disk. The figure below shows four examples.