With less than a week to go I'm just about settled on the sessions I'm going to do in Malaysia. Here's a brief summary. Buffon's needle A mathematical experiment to determine the value of pi. Needles, or an equivalent (cotton buds, matches, hotdogs) are thrown onto a surface with regularly spaced lines. The ratio between needles touching and not touching can be used to estimate pi. This lesson covers a suite of mathematical skills: data collection and analysis, probability, trigonometry, calculus and Monte Carlo methods. Benford's law This is a surprising (to most people) result concerning the distribution of first digits in many samples of data. For example, in lists containing asteroid diameters in meters, isotope half lives in seconds, student heights in mm your intuition might tell you that you're just as likely to get a 1, 4 or a 9 as the first digit. A physicist called Frank Benford discovered that not only was intuition wrong about that, but that the distribution of first digits followed a beautiful mathematical pattern. This lesson requires a bit of data analysis and unit conversions. The mathematical explanation of why Benford's law works is fairly complicated. I'm planning to just give the hand waving version using concepts they'll "get" like percentage change frequency distribution of digits in the integers. Benford's law in mathematically interesting in its own right but it has practical applications in terms of fraud detection. It's easy to detect when books have been cooked with numbers that human generated. If you're going to do it  you'll need to know about Benford :) Where are the aliens? I've done this presentation so many times with the astronomy club. I'll start by asking the students whether or not they think life exists beyond the Earth and perhaps if any of them can give a persuasive reason for their position. Usually the majority response is "Yes" and the reason is version of "because the universe is so big". The obvious question is well, where are the aliens? Then I'll do a brief summary on the search of extrasolar planets and the history of SETI. In other words, present the students with the evidence and have a discussion which attempts to resolve the apparent paradox between widespread planetary systems and no evidence of intelligent life beyond the Earth. 3D Tour of the Solar System This is another popular astronomy presentation with NASTRO. I'll run with this one when I've got 1520 minutes only. Lot's of pretty pictures and I'll get the students to tell me what they know about the solar system as we go. And on top of that...it really is 3D (well, redblue anaglyph).
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Dr Adrian JannettaGuitar strummin' explorer of the universe. Mild mannered maths teacher by day and astronomer by night. Archives
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