New Twist on Sofa Problem That Stumped Mathematicians and Furniture Movers

Hobby 3-D Printing Leads to New Insights into Moving Sofa Problem

By Becky Oskin

Most of us have struggled with the mathematical puzzle known as the “moving sofa problem.” It poses a deceptively simple question: What is the largest sofa that can pivot around an L-shaped hallway corner?

A mover will tell you to just stand the sofa on end. But imagine the sofa is impossible to lift, squish or tilt. Although it still seems easy to solve, the moving sofa problem has stymied math sleuths for more than 50 years. That’s because the challenge for mathematicians is both finding the largest sofa and proving it to be the largest. Without a proof, it’s always possible someone will come along with a better solution.

Calculating just how fast Usain Bolt runs

With gold medals in three sprinting events at three Olympic Games, Usain Bolt has written himself into the record books as arguably the fastest human of all time. But just how fast is the Jamaican sprinter?

Three mathematicians, Sebastian Schreiber of UC Davis, Wayne Getz of UC Berkeley and Karl Smith of Santa Rosa Junior College, show how to calculate Bolt’s maximum velocity in the 100 meters at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in their 2014 textbook, “Calculus for the Life Sciences.”

This plot shows Usain Bolt's velocity measured at 10 meter intervals.

This plot shows Usain Bolt’s velocity measured at 10 meter intervals.

Q and A: Information theory and social evolution

Big Data has a problem right now. We produce an avalanche of information every day by just walking around with our smartphones or posting on social media. Researchers in the social sciences today are collaborating across disciplines to turn this wealth of information into knowledge.

Martin Hilbert, an assistant professor of communication at UC Davis, is developing new ways to think about how social scientists can use this data to understand societies. In this Q&A, he discusses what Big Data and living in an information society could mean for our social evolution.

Read the Q&A at the ISS website:

Math links ecological flash mobs and magnet physics

By Kat Kerlin

How does an acorn know to fall when the other acorns do? What triggers insects, or disease, to suddenly break out over large areas? Why do fruit trees have boom and bust years?

The question of what generates such synchronous, ecological “flash mobs” over long distances has long perplexed population ecologists. Part of the answer has to do with something seemingly unrelated: what makes a magnet a magnet.

Nobel winner headlines math/biology workshop

2013 Nobel laureate Michael Levitt of Stanford University will headline a one-day workshop on mathematics and biology to be held at UC Davis Nov. 22. Biology and Mathematics in the Bay Area aims at “creating a fairly informal atmosphere to explore the role of mathematics in biology,” according to the advance flyer. “Our goal is to encourage dialogue between researchers and students from different disciplines in an atmosphere that promotes the open exchange of ideas and viewpoints.”

Also speaking: Ileana Streinu at Smith College; Sean Mooney, Buck Institute; Sharon Aviran and Steve Kowalczykowski, UC Davis.

UC Davis to offer summer internships in physics, math to students from Mexico

Undergraduate math and physics students from Mexico will be able to take up research internships at UC Davis this summer under a new program supported by the Consulate General of Mexico in Sacramento.

The program will add an additional place each to the existing Research Experience for Undergraduates programs in the Departments of Mathematics and Physics. The REU program is sponsored by the National Science Foundation, but NSF rules allow non-citizens to be added to the program if other funds are used, said Manuel Calderón de la Barca Sánchez, associate professor of physics at UC Davis.

Robots teaching math: C-STEM Day and one-day conference

Two upcoming events showcase how teachers can bring robots into the classroom to help teach algebra, math and science and get kids fired up about careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

C-STEM Day, May 4 — Middle and high school students from across the region will test their skills in math, robotics and programming May 4 at the third annual C-STEM Day, organized by the Center for Integrated Computing and STEM Education at the University of California, Davis.

Teachers, want to be a robotics fellow?

The UC Davis C-STEM Center has two fellowship opportunities, Robotics Fellows and CREST Fellows, for teachers in science, technology, engineering and math. Application deadline for both fellowships is April 5.

The Center is also once again offering its Summer Institute, June 24-July 5, with two week-long courses for teachers on robotics technology and computer programming and on algebra/pre-algebra teaching with robotics.

The programs culminate on C-STEM Day, when participating students and teachers gather to showcase their robots and take part in the Roboplay competition. This year’s C-STEM Day is May 4.

UC Davis C-STEM Center Wins NSF Grant for Learning Math with Robots

10-graders from Hiram Johnson High School working with robots at C-STEM Day, UC Davis, May 2012

Contributed by Harry Cheng

The UC Davis C-STEM Center has received a grant of $300,000 from the National Science Foundation to study collaborative mathematics learning with robots. The two-year project aims to transform math education by integrating computer programming, robotics, and handheld computing into middle and high school math classrooms.

“Algebra is one of the most important and also one of the most difficult courses for students in K-12 grades,” said Harry H. Cheng, professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and the Center’s director.

Weekend workshop prepares “Counselors for Computing”

School counselors will gather at the UC Davis Conference Center Saturday for a workshop on how to guide and advise school students interested in careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The counselors will hear from both teachers and students from schools that partner with the UC Davis K-14 Outreach Center for Computing and STEM Education (C-STEM) about their experiences, especially in encouraging female students and other underrepresented groups into science and engineering.

The workshop is jointly organized by the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), the California Association of School Counselors and UC Davis C-STEM.