Seven Things We Can Thank Algebra For
I'm getting fed up of hearing that old wives' tale that algebra is good for nothing. “No one uses it”, they say, “yet another day went by without it”, you may hear. I want to prove them all wrong. Here's a list of seven great things that algebra made possible.
Space Pictures -
Oh yes, without knowledge of trigonometry, there's no way we'd ever have been able to get into orbit, let alone fly past Pluto. The equations that make space travel possible are extensive they all have algebra in them.
Pictures at all -
Have you ever used a manual focus lens? It's not easy to get a clear shot. The way the glasses interact across the distance given is directly plottable with algebra. Cameras are built to have rational and easily expressed focal points, which can be written with algebra. The software which runs modern cameras uses this same algebra to do all that clever stuff.
That is indeed correct. Computer programs especially rely on mathematical expressions to tell the machine what to do with all those bits of data. The way we write code requires variables which although has its own language, the mathematical principles carry over as the same, so the equations we learn go directly across like a java plugin.
How do we get from a frequency in the airwaves to a sound on the loud speaker? By using algebra to decode it. The peaks and troughs are captured, separated by frequency and then projected into the system. An encrypted, or a digital signal will be behind a formula which must be applied before the analogue representation can be produced.
Electronic music -
How do those synthesisers manage to produce all those different sounds? By altering variables. Those same things that we call x, y, and z etc. when working on paper. The same principles apply, but they affect sound waves and not whole numbers.
When we make something heavy and tall, it's vital that it is going to stand up. Not only this, but we want it to stay standing up no matter what nature throws at it. The best way to do this is to build according to specific laws which we know dictate how materials behave, Algebra can be used to express these rules. Once we can demonstrate safety with stresses, forces, and pressure points, etc, then the architecture is deemed to be sound, and the building can commence. Without algebra, we'd be living and working in small huts.
That's right. Without the skills of navigation, which uses algebra to map positions on open ocean by plotting the stars, the sun, and the time, according to known relationships between all variables, it's unlikely that enough boats would have made it across the Atlantic in the first place. Those legends of rafts in ancient times would have had a tiny success rate, unless they followed whales or something.
We naturally want to know what is hidden, if something is slightly out of focus, we move closer to see.
Many of the veteran space scientists of today were inspired by their childhood memory of seeing Neil Armstrong take those first steps on the Lunar surface. It could be argued that this human presence was what inspired them to take their own giant leap into the world of professional astronomy. The footage is world famous, and for most, inspiring. To know (or to think) that a man like myself, a person like you, took their feet and used them to walk on that white disk we see in the sky is an awe inspiring and an humbling notion to entertain.
Learning astronomy, engineering, and astrophysics is a specific goal for a certain type of person. We have to be good at appreciating big things and working with numbers, plus we have to be prepared to accept that there's a lot of things that we just do not know.
We naturally want to know what is hidden, if something is slightly out of focus, we move closer to see. Curiosity is something we are naturally good at expressing, and it does have its downsides as the proverb about cats may suggest, in which they meet a sticky end. Unfortunately space too has claimed its fair share of tragedies.
Many claim that sending people into space is a risk too far, and that when we have equipment that can perform the jobs of humans, then there's no need to send them further than orbit. I think this is a rational and fair judgement. Those films from the early days of astronauting of Neil and Buzz, taking their steps on that rocky desert in the sky, did indeed inspire. Having people in space will always do a good job of giving children the desire to go and learn it for themselves.
However, I think that in truth, it was the provision of media which gave that spark to so many. Seeing people of course helps with an emotional connection but with robotic laboratories capable of taking exquisite photographs and providing long distance data about far away worlds, this too is like honey for the bumble bee of the brain.
Space technology has inspired so many of today's things, from the telescopes to the computer programs that run them, everything has to be so precise and expertly tuned, the resulting wisdom from the process of creation sets procedures for science and engineering to whole new standards. The educational route of astronomy, and space sciences of all forms, is one to take when we know that we are called to drench ourselves in the wisdom occulted by the emptiness of space.
The cross pollination of discipline in science is what gives invention and innovation the fuel and fertilizer that it truly needs. Once principles are found and shown to be predictable, those laws are used to create technology for a wide number of applications. It's the creative element with the tools at hand which allows this.
Encouraging young people to take an interest in engineering, mechanics, and the AI computing which works with it in modern machines, is not easy.
The Bristol based engineers secretly wrenching and casting bits of 3D printed titanium, are working in an nondescript unit on suburban trading estate on a world class record breaking supercar. The land speed record is set to be broken at a whopping 1000mph.
A drive to encourage young learners to look into the world of engineering and mechanics, alongside a close patriotic sense towards British ingenuity, the idea is to encourage new talent for the country as a whole. Lord Drayson, in his then role of Minister of Defence Procurement, gave the starting signal for the Bloodhound project once the idea to encourage and inspire was finalised.
"The primary goal is to inspire a generation of children to engage with STEM education, and create a legacy for British engineering," Mark Chapman – Project coordinator.
He goes on to impress with more fascinating detail about exactly how fast this new car is planned to be, “If you blink your eyes, your blink reflex is a fifth of a second. So if you were in a football stadium, and you blinked your eyes, Bloodhound SSC would come into the stadium on one side and leave on the other during one blink. You wouldn't see it, and you wouldn't have heard the car coming, either, because it's supersonic. Explain it in simple terms, and people start to understand just how fast it is.” Chapman.
Getting the thrilling speeds and technology in one package gives the emotional and methodical approach to learning, the element of Risk being another key factor. When one man does a crazy stunt, it encourages others to do more medium sized things which do wonders for their own lives.
A wide variety of commercial entities have shown significant interest in the Bloodhound Project over the past decade since it has been slowly and significantly being produced. Aiming to thrash several records including the fastest horizontal moving vehicle at the altitude of 2500ft, land speeds, and innovating Artificial Intelligence to allow the car to learn how it works for itself, interest is multi-field.
Ten thousand build it yourself rocket car kits have been made available to British School children via a government scheme. This is of course aimed at harnessing the buzz created around the Bloodhound Project which is aiming to make an initial run of 800mph in South Africa in 2017. The top speed record smash will take place the following year once all the data is gathered from the tests, and used to finely tune the vehicle even more.
Rowan Blair Colver for Alternative Fruit
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