William The Maths Bear's 'Paws For Thought' April 2017

29th March 2017

Hello Tiny Humans!

It fascinates us how many mysteries that mathematics can be instrumental in solving, it seems the possibilities truly are infinite.

Did you know that researchers in the Netherlands have now applied maths to discover how pedestrians in large crowds can walk around without bumping into each other? Federico Toschi at Eindhoven University of Technology and his colleagues set up a camera to record the movement of crowds through a single corridor that linked the university’s cafeteria with it’s corresponding dining room. It wasn’t a huge amount of footfall but it was consistent.

Individuals within large crowds are hard to track, so crowds are frequently modelled as collections of particles in a fluid, with each pedestrian representing a single particle. But human beings are of course more unpredictable than that, and often change their minds too, therefore performing movements like U-turns. “Most models ignore the possibility of people going back, but in a train station it would happen every few minutes,” said Toschi.

The cameras used a Microsoft Kinect 3D motion sensor with a built-in infrared illuminator to correct for changes in the lighting conditions and monitored the movement of over 72,000 pedestrian paths captured during one full year year to model the average path people took whilst taking into account the real life random changes and doubling back that humans do frequently. The model they have produced can predict much more accurately the movement of a real human crowd, especially changes like sudden U-turns, which could clog up a more heavily used hallway or lead to traffic jams and dangerous situations in more crowded places.

“That’s the beauty of this sort of experiment – it’s recording from real life,” says Toschi. The model could also be used to plan public places to optimise crowd flow and gently steer crowds in the safest and most beneficial routes, and avoid horrible tragedies like the stampede at a German music festival in 2010 that killed 21 people, or the surprisingly common occurrence of stampedes at religious festivals and events in Asia which kill dozens each year it seems. Maths can also save your life it seems!

Here is some exciting news for football lovers too!

The Premier League has today launched Premier League Primary Stars, a free national curriculum-linked education programme which uses the appeal of the Premier League and professional football clubs to get kids more excited about maths.

Obviously we wouldn’t want this to replace ConquerMaths in schools but it is a different approach to the subject which might help get pupils more excited and engaged, especially those students who consider themselves more gifted in sporty pursuits!

Popular Sky Sports presenter and mathematician Rachel Riley, who is also famous for her role on Countdown and more recently Eight out of Ten Cats Does Countdown, has been a consultant in the development of the Maths teaching resources.

Riley says: “Maths is a subject that a lot of young people find challenging and is often dismissed as boring. What I love about the resources we’ve developed for the Premier League Primary Stars programme is that it makes maths relevant to children’s everyday lives.

“I’ve seen the reaction from children using the lesson plans – they are excited, interested and engaged. I think this is a fantastic programme that will undoubtedly inspire children to learn but also give teachers the tools to be creative with their lessons. Anything that excites primary school children about maths gets a gold star from me.”

Some children do consider themselves ‘sporty’, and therefore not academically gifted, and that is great for their physical health but in reality successful future careers in sport are limited to a certain extent, especially without the combination of other skills so this programme could be a great way of bringing those ‘sporty’ kids back to more academic pursuits such as maths which will ultimately provide them with more lucrative and reliable career paths.

There is nothing wrong with sport, but harnessing children’s enthusiasm for football to increase their enthusiasm for, and enjoyment of maths can only be a good thing.