Experimental Maths: Does What It Says On The Tin
Most of my modules were in Term 1 and Term 2 last year, but there was one option that I took in the first few weeks of Term 3: Experimental Maths.
Its title is pretty accurate – first you do some experiments, and then you look at the maths behind it. All of the maths was covered in our first year modules, but it wasn’t always immediately clear what maths we could apply to the real world situations. In my class, we worked together in groups of three, and submitted assignments as a group. The collaborative aspect was quite helpful – some of the problems were fairly involved, and bouncing ideas around was usually a bit more productive.
One of the experiments we looked at was the Zeeman Catastrophe Machine. The machine itself is a fairly basic construction – a plank, a rotating wheel, and some elastic bands. What it serves to show is that small changes can cause changes in state which lead to vastly different outcomes. A change of state going one way is not always in the same place as a change of state going the other way.
Another system that we looked at was a spring between two pendula (in this case, tins of soup), and how the pair interacted depending on the initial starting state. Some of the conditions were fairly mesmerising to watch!
I think the best thing about this module for me personally was that it encouraged me to think about things that I’d learnt in my other modules in a different way, and to draw parallels between different areas. Another good thing was that it was taken in Term 3, just before my exams, and because it used content from other modules, it strengthened my understanding of the other modules.