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Published: 2014-03-03

Leading researchers discuss beauty and explanation of mathematics

NEWS Are mathematical beauty and mathematical explanation related in any way? This question is posed to philosophers, mathematicians and mathematics educators from across the globe when they meet at Umeå University during 10 to 12 March.

“The research area is very small both in Sweden and internationally, but many of the leading researchers are coming to our workshop and it feels great,” says conference coordinator Dr Manya Sundström, senior lecturer at the Department of Science and Mathematics Education.

The concept behind the workshop is to bring together researchers who have worked on topics related to beauty in mathematics or explanation of mathematics, but as a result of the rather strict disciplinary boundaries of the research area, have not had ample opportunity to read and discuss each other's work.

The workshop participants will work empirically and develop a set of examples in order to examine the connections and differences between the two concepts. We often say that a proof that explains is preferable than one which cannot be explained. Could it be that they are more beautiful from an aesthetic perspective? And if beauty can be linked to explanation or understanding, can it help to motivate teachers to include the beauty of mathematics in their teaching?

A significant amount of research has been conducted on explanations in mathematics, but not so much about mathematical beauty.

“If we can show the relation between explanation and beauty, it can lead to major advances in both areas of research, and we would have a framework to build on in order to better understand what beauty of mathematics is,” says Manya Sundström.

Notable guest speakers include:

Nathalie Sinclair researches on tangible mathematics teaching at Simon Frasier University, Canada, and has studied the role of mathematics and beauty. She has demonstrated that small children can appreciate the beauty of mathematics in a similar way as mathematicians.
Nathalie Sinclair has written a book about this subject:
Sinclair is giving a lecture on Tuesday 11 March at 13:00 in lecure hall N410, Naturvetarhuset:”Sense and sensibility in mathematics”.

Juliette Kennedy, University of Helsinki, Finland, researches on mathematical logic. More information about Juliette Kennedy
She will be giving a talk on Tuesday 11 March, 18:30-19:30 at Bildmuseet with the title: "The drawing is a set of thoughts": On reading mathematical constructions as works of art.

Hendrik Lenstra is a well-known mathematician from the Netherlands.  One of the projects has worked won is to visualise the mathematical structure behind graphic artist M.C. Escher’s ‘Print Gallery. More information about the project
He will be discussing this project on Wednesday 12 March at 17:00-18:15 in lecture hall Hörsal D, Samhällsvetarhuset: Escher and the Droste effect”.

Marc Lange is a leading researcher specializing in the philosophy of mathematics at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, USA. More information about Marc Lange 
He will be holding a lecture on Wednesday 12 March at 19:45-21:00 in lecture hall Hörsal D, Samhällsvetarhuset: ” There sweep great general principles which all the laws seem to follow.”

For press and media:

Journalists are welcome to attend the workshop. Contact Manya Sundström if you would like to schedule an interview with any of the speakers.
The complete workshop programme

For further information, please contact:

Manya Sundström, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Science and Mathematics Education Phone: +46(0)73-82 38 421
E-mail: manya.sundstrom@umu.se

Editor: Ingrid Söderbergh