﻿ Maths of Planet Earth | Limitless Applications

Published on February 21st, 2013 | by Simi

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Prof. Nalini Joshi, Chair, National Committee for Mathematics

We are pleased to announce Prof. Nalini Joshi, Chair of the National Committee for Mathematics at Australian Academy of Science as an Ambassador for the International Year of Mathematics of Planet Earth Australia.

Inspired by Nalini’s tweet “Maths is in my heart” Trixie Barretto made this wonderful video of Nalini’s journey into mathematics.

Here are Nalini’s answers to our questions.

1. What is your name and what do you do?
My name is Nalini Joshi and I am a mathematician.

2. Why are you an ambassador for Maths of Planet Earth?
I try to be an ambassador for mathematics. For those who may not know about how beautiful and deeply essential mathematics is in our world, I hope that Mathematics of Planet Earth might provide a glimpse. Imagine a world without mathematics: there would be no mobile phones, no internet shopping, no CDs or DVDs, no DNA analysis, no climate modelling, no science. I want to convey to everyone the limitless possibilities of a future with mathematics.

“Imagine a world without mathematics: there would be no mobile phones, no internet shopping, no CDs or DVDs…”

3. Why did you choose the mathematical sciences?
I wanted to understand how the universe works. Mathematics allows me to do that by discovering and using something I love, which is working with patterns.

4. Was there a ‘maths defining’ moment in your life. A key time or event that changed you and projected you into the mathematical sciences?
There was a gradual awakening that led to an inevitable realisation that I can’t do without mathematics.

If you take two rulers and put them one on top of another, it is clear that the height of the combined object is the sum of the heights of each ruler. This is an example of a linear system. But if you look at the lines of shallow waves running up a beach, the combined height of intersecting waves is not necessarily the sum of heights of each individual wave. That system is not linear. Whether you are looking at waves on a beach or movements of animals in a landscape, it turns out that the universe is nonlinear. I work on systems of mathematical equations that model nonlinear situations and develop a mathematical toolbox to describe their solutions.

6. Is it important for all Australians to be mathematically literate?
Absolutely. Many people say we don’t need it because we can rely on cash registers, calculators, calendars and computers. Even at the basic level, I am afraid this is not enough, because registers, machines and programs will always make mistakes or fail at some point. We will always need mathematically literate people to be alongside any instrument and we will always need people who can analyse and solve problems.

7. How can we inspire more people to take up careers in mathematics?
The important key to inspiring people is teachers. We need skilled, confident and passionate teachers who will open the doors to show how accessible, useful and inspiring mathematics can be.

8. Do you think that mathematicians deserve the “geek” tag?
Most mathematicians I know are just like other people, except that they might get obsessed with a calculation every now and then. Did you know that geek or nerd are now fashionable terms?