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MathsJam Antwerp 20 November 2019. A Blast and a Responsibility.

Today, Simon returned to a problem he first encountered at a MathsJam in summer: “Pick random numbers between 0 and 1, until the sum exceeds 1. What is the expected number of numbers you’ll pick?” Back in June, Simon already knew the answer was e, but his attempt to prove it didn’t quite work back then. Today, he managed to prove his answer!

The same proof in a more concise way:

At MathsJam last night, Simon was really eager to show his proof to Rudi Penne, a professor from the University of Antwerp who was sitting next to Simon last time he gave it a go back in June. Rudi kept Simon’s notes and told me he really admired the way Simon’s reasoning spans borders between subjects (the way Simon can start with combinatorics and jump to geometry), something that many students nurtured within the structured subject system are incapable of doing, Rudi said. Who needs borders?

Later the same evening, Simon had a blast demonstrating the proof to a similar problem to a larger grateful and patient audience, including Professor David Eelbode. The first proof was Simon’s own, the second problem (puzzle with a shrinking bullseye) and proof came from Grant Sanderson (3Blue1Brown) on Numberphile.

“Don’t allow any constraints to dull his excitement and motivation!” Rudi told me as Simon was waiting for us to leave. “That’s a huge responsibility you’ve got there, in front of the world”.

Murderous Maths, Notes on everyday life, Simon's sketch book

The beauty of the Cubic Formula

One of Simon’s most beloved sources of knowledge is the Welch Labs channel. Recently he has been rewatching the series about imaginary numbers and the history of their discovery. Did you know that came about because of the Cubic Formula?

The proof of the Cubic Formula is a bit longer than that of the Quadratic Formula (on the yellow sheet)
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Sinterklaas math game with “gingerbread buttons”

It’s Sinterklaas season in the Dutch-speaking world and, of course, as we have started baking the traditional spiced cookies called kruidnoten (“gingerbread buttons”) Simon didn’t want to miss an opportunity to play a version of peg solitaire with eatable pieces!

Simon has baked these himself (together with Neva)
the winning strategy
Simon mixing the right proportion of spices, grinding clove (then adding nutmeg, white pepper, ginger, cardamom and cinnamon)
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Simon edits his sisters vlog and does the subtitles

Simon’s sister Neva has started a vlog and Simon, busy as he is, enjoys editing her videos. For the first 17-minute video he has also done all the subtitles (translating from Dutch to English), which was a project that took him two days and something like 7 hours of work! Neva, in her turn, has got Simon increasingly interested in environmental issues.

Simon doing the subtitles
If you could choose, when woud you like to live – now, in the past or in the future? This poetic portrait of what the new generation thinks about the future climate is a spontaneous talk that Oxiea Villamonte (Royal Art Academy of Antwerp) and her young friend Neva Houben (8) have recorded while taking a walk by the river.
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Social encounters

Such a pleasant play date last week with another eager learner. Simon shared his GeoGebra skills and some geometrical paper tricks, among other things. It’s heartwarming to see Simon blossom socially, he is growingly attentive to younger kids and generally engaging with people of various ages, as long as they show interest in anything Simon has an understanding of.

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World Science Scholars Feature Simon’s visit to CERN in a newsletter. The current course is about neurons. Reading Stephen Wolfram.

Simon’s September visit to CERN has been featured in a World Science Scholars newsletter:

Here’s our update on the World Science Scholars program. Simon has finished the first bootcamp course on the theory and quantum mechanics by one of program’s founders, string theorist Professor Brian Greene and has taken part in three live sessions: with Professor Brian Greene, Professor Justin Khoury (dark matter research, alternatives to the inflationary paradigm, such as the Ekpyrotic Universe), and Professor Barry Barish (one of the leading experts in gravitational waves and particle detectors; won the Nobel Prize in Physics along with Rainer Weiss and Kip Thorne “for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves”).

September 2019: Simon at a hotel room in Geneva taking pat in his first WSS live session, with Professor Brian Greene
September 2019: screenshot from Professor Brian Greene’s course module on quantum physics

At the moment, there isn’t much going on. Simon is following the second course offered by the program, at his own pace. It’s a course about neurology and neurological statistics by Professor Suzana Herculano-Houzel and is called “Big Brains, Small Brains: The Conundrum of Comparing Brains and Intelligence”. The course is compiled from Professor Herculano-Houzel’s presentations made at the World Science Festival so it doesn’t seem to have been recorded specifically for the scholars, like Professor Brian Greene’s course was.

Professor Herculano-Houzel has made “brain soup” (also called “isotropic fractionator”) out of dozens of animal species and has counted exactly how many neurons different brains are made of. Contrary to what Simon saw in Professor Greene’s course (mainly already familiar stuff as both relativity theory and quantum mechanics have been within his area of interest for quite some time), most of the material in this second course is very new to him. And possibly also less exciting. Although what helps is the mathematical way in which the data is presented. After all, the World Science Scholars program is about interdisciplinary themes that are intertwined with mathematical thinking.

Screenshots of the course’s quizzes. Simon has learned about scale invariance, the number of neurons in the human brain, allometric and isometric scaling relationships.

Another mathematical example: in Professor Herculano-Houzel’s course on brains we have witnessed nested patterns, as if they escaped from Stephen Wolfram’s book we’re reading now.

screenshot from the course by Professor Herculano-Houzel

Simon has also contributed to the discussion pages, trying out an experiment where paper surface represented cerebral cortex:

The top paper represents the cerebral cortex of a smaller animal. Cerebral cortex follows the same physical laws when folding is applied.

Simon: “Humans are not outliers because they’re outliers, they are outliers because there’s a hidden variable”.

screenshot from Professor Herculano-Houzel’s course: after colour has been added to the plot, the patterns reveal themselves

Simon is looking forward to Stephen Wolfram’s course (that he is recording for world science scholars) and, of course, to the live sessions with him. The information that Stephen Wolfram will be the next lecturer has stimulated Simon to dive deep into his writings (we are already nearly 400 pages through his “bible” A New Kind of Science) and sparked a renewed and more profound understanding of cellular automata and Turing machines and of ways to connect those to our observations in nature. I’m pretty sure this is just the beginning.

It’s amazing to observe how quickly Simon grasps the concepts described in A New Kind of Science; on several occasions he has tried to recreate the examples he read about the night before.

Simon playing around in Wolfram Mathematica, after reading about minor changes to the initial conditions of an idealised version of the kneading process
Simon working out a “study plan” for his Chinese lessons using a network system model he saw in Stephen Wolfram’s book “A New Kind of Science”
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Vanishing Letters

Simon’s way to celebrate Helloween: a little demo about how red marker reflects red LED light and becomes invisible. A nice trick in the dark!

We also had so much fun with the blue LED lamp a couple days ago when Simon discovered that it projects perfect conic sections on the wall! Depending on the angle at which he was holding the lamp, he got a circle, an ellipse, a hyperbola and a parabola! Originally just a spheric light source we grabbed after the power went out in the bathroom, in Simon’s hands the lamp has become an inspiring science demo tool.

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Zutopedia, a fun Computer Science Resource

Through the whole moth of October, Simon really loved watching Computer Science and Physics videos by Udi Aharoni, a researcher at IBM research labs and creator of the Udiprod channel https://www.youtube.com/user/udiprod and the Zutopedia website http://www.zutopedia.com/ Simon’s favourite has been the Halting Problem video that he also explained to his little sister.

In the example below, Simon has applied a compression algorithm to a sentence by transforming the sentence into a tree where all the letters have their corresponding frequencies in this sentence. “Can you get back to the sentence? You have to first transform the letters into ones and zeros using the tree (the tree is a way to encode it into ones and zeros that’s better than ASCII)”.

Simon learned this at http://www.zutopedia.com/compression.html
thanks to the Udiprod channel, Simon has also revisited sorting algorithms and spent hours comparing them, this time using self-made number cards
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Brilliant Discussions

This is an example of the learning style that Simon enjoys most. He really likes doing the daily challenges on Brilliant.org. He later sometimes discusses them with other participants or even writes wikis!

Simon writing an explanation on Brilliant.org’s discussion page about a Computer Science Fundamentals daily challenge. Link to the full discussion: https://brilliant.org/daily-problems/what-variable-1/
The problem and Simon’s answer
Simon’s contribution to the discussion