This week the joint Gresham College and London Mathematical Society lecture will take place. Reidun Twarock of the University of York will give a talk Geometry: A New Weapon in the Fight Against Viruses. The details are on the Gresham College website. In case you can’t make the talk on Wednesday, then maybe there is a MathsJam near you on Tuesday. And if you can’t make either, then maybe you would like to see last year’s Gresham/LMS talk by Marcus du...

## Popular Lectures of the London Mathematical Society...

posted by Kevin Houston

The line up for this year’s London Mathematical Society Popular Lectures has finally been announced. As this year marks the 150th year of the LMS there are four lecturers instead of the usual two. We have Professor Martin Hairer, FRS – University of Warwick (and recipient of a Fields Medal last year) Professor Ben Green, FRS – University of Oxford Dr Ruth King – University of St Andrews Dr Hannah Fry – University College London The lectures will be at different times and different places, see the Popular Lectures webpage. Last year’s lectures are available...

## The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Chord

posted by Kevin Houston

On the 16th April 1964 the Beatles, George Harrison, Paul McCartney, John Lennon and Ringo Starr, were on the cusp between stardom and mega-stardom. Groundbreaking albums, hit films, cartoons, royal honours, Sgt. Pepper, Indian mysticism, and an acrimonious break up all lay in their future as did the murder of Lennon and attempted murder of Harrison by separate mentally disturbed fans. That was all to come. Their task that night was to record an impressive opening track for their forthcoming debut film and the album to accompany it. Their producer, George Martin, wanted something spectacular: ‘We were looking for something big to open it with, an introduction. It needed a strong chord, a dramatic thing’ (p487 of Dominic Pedler, The Songwriting Secrets of the Beatles, Omnibus Press, 2003). Those present in the Abbey Road studio to record Lennon’s song A Hard Day’s Night could not have imagined that 50 years later the events would still be analyzed and dissected. Particularly since the focus of the analysis is almost not a piece of music, it’s a short sound, less than 3 seconds long, a crashing, ringing, chiming sound that has caused arguments and discussions between Beatles’ fans and musicologists ever since it was recorded. The noise is impossible to describe accurately in words – the famous quote ‘writing about music is like dancing about architecture’ comes to mind. The sound can be heard here: http://www.kevinhouston.net/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/original-chord3.wav The central question is simple: What is it? That is, what notes are played and who is playing them? Many versions have been suggested. In his massive Beatles book, The Songwriting Secrets of the Beatles, Dominic Pedler collects twenty one educated guesses from various sources and devotes over 40 pages to discussion, including his own theory. It is not difficult to produce a chord that is close – strumming a guitar without fretting produces a similar sound. It’s close. But close is not exact, right? So, what is it really? In 2004 a mathematician claimed to have discovered this musical holy grail by applying mathematics. Once and for all, the riddle was solved because, after all, mathematics is not wrong and you can’t beat the scientists with their fancy abstract toys. Except there was a problem. He got it horribly wrong. Here, for the honour of all mathematicians, I would like to put the record straight — or at least straighter. The mathematical tale of the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Chord is a tale of 18th century mathematicians, the study of heat, Karaoke tricks and a measure of luck. The quest begins I am a mathematics lecturer who enjoys promoting mathematics to school children and the general public. My introduction to the mystery of the chord came not from a love of the Beatles music but a desire to show off in front of my parents. My mathematics promotion involves giving talks all over the country but as I live in the north of England and my parents live in a secluded part of the north east of Scotland, they would under normal circumstances be unable to see their second son on a stage explaining mathematics. Back in 2011 I heard that the British Science Festival would be held the following year in Aberdeen which is close to where my parents live. The festival is held in a different city in the UK each year and aims to engage the general public in science. Hundreds of events take place over a week in September with debates, demonstrations and hands-on exhibitions at the local university as well as theatres and even, like maths busking, in the street. (Maths busking is as it sounds. Mathematicians go out in the street and do mathematics to entertain passers-by. I’ve tried it and it is hard. See my report here.) All I had to do was offer to give a talk, get accepted and I would get my chance to impress...

## LMS Popular Lectures

posted by Kevin Houston

The London Mathematical Society runs a regular Popular Lectures Series. These are mathematics lectures by (usually) research mathematicians. In recent years a pair of lecturers has performed in London and Birmingham. This year they will be given by Julia Gog and Kevin Buzzard. (The London performance was last night and the Birmingham one is in September.) If you haven’t got tickets, then the good news is that the lectures are recorded and put online. Currently, an admittedly incomplete, collection of previous lectures is hosted in two different places: Lectures from 2008-2013 Lectures from 1986-1996 Previous speakers have included Sir Tim Gowers, Sir Roger Penrose, Reidun Twarock, Matt Parker, Mark Miodownik, Ray Hill, Vicky Neale and Dorothy...

## Persi Diaconis Lecture on Martin Gardner at BMC...

posted by Kevin Houston

The name Martin Gardner is familiar to most mathematicians. He wrote numerous on mathematics from a culture and leisure viewpoint. (You can find his books on Amazon.) Next week Persi Diaconis will give a talk at the British Mathematical Colloquium (BMC) on the life and work of Martin Gardner. The BMC is an annual gathering of research mathematicians in the UK and beyond. Diaconis’ talk is a public lecture so anyone may attend but a (free) ticket is required. Details of the talk are here. I’ll be attending so do say hello if you see me. For all of those unable to attend but want to know a bit more about Gardner then Diaconis has co-written a biography of Gardner (as well as a great mathematical magic book). There is also a recent article in the New York...

## Maths and Magic on Radio 4...

posted by Kevin Houston

Should have posted this the other day: Last Friday Radio 4 transmitted a programme on maths and magic entitled, Maths and Magic! It features Jolyon Jenkins investigating the connection between the subjects in the title. You can hear it here for at least a few days. There are links on the web page but I thought I should add some. One of the magicians, Alex Stone, wrote one of my favourite books of the year, Fooling Houdini, which is about how he realized he was a terrible magician and devoted himself to changing that by immersing himself in the study of magic. He also does the same trick as Jenkins and there is a deeper explanation of it in the book. The Radio 4 website also lacks links to MathsJam and to James Grime, a contributor to Numberphile. Furthermore, the website cites Persi Diaconis as the sole author of Magical Mathematics when in fact it was co-authored by Ron Graham. And on the subject of Radio 4, today’s Infinite Monkey Cage isn’t about maths but is well worth a listen because of the excellent contributions from James...