The fish that do advanced mathematics

July 22nd, 2009 | Categories: general math | Tags:

It never ceases to amaze me how researchers manage to find connections between the most seemingly disconnected of things.  A researcher at Manchester University, Bill Lionheart, conducts research into the mathematics of ‘seeing inside things with electricty’ and over at his blog he has a great story which basically says that a certain breed of fish are significantly better at this particular branch of mathematics than we are.

A more detailed version of the story can be found over at the BBC Manchester website

One particular quote I love is “Weakly electric fish are really interesting to us because they have the ability to solve a challenging mathematical problem when catching their food.” as it made me wonder how students would feel if they had to solve challenging mathematical problems in order to get their food :)

  1. Alfredo
    July 22nd, 2009 at 20:42
    Reply | Quote | #1

    Do we solve for the roots of a quadratic equation each time we catch a ball in the air?

  2. Mike Croucher
    July 23rd, 2009 at 09:20
    Reply | Quote | #2

    Hi Alfredo

    I imagine it would be harder than the quadratic equation once you take into account things like wind factor, static air resistance and spin!

    Seriously though, I think Bill is being metaphorical when he says that the fish are doing advanced maths. I think he is trying to stimulate discussion and is doing a good job.


  3. July 23rd, 2009 at 21:47
    Reply | Quote | #3

    Yes obviously what the BBC (and our press office) wrote was a bit of a simplification. It is more correct to say that evolution has come up with a way to solve the EIT inverse problem and we can learn from that solution. But one observation is that if you say “Bill is doing some interesting maths that will help with intensive care and geophysics” you get no reaction from the press. But if you say “Bill has got some fish that do maths” they come round to film the fish. And if the story gets someone interested in science and maths its worth the slightly humorous slant we put on it.

    The Game Boy I used as to run my oscilliscope/spectrum analyser was on loan from a PhD student. He had seen it in a talk I gave to sixthformers on Fourier Analysis in which I used the device, but my Game Boy has since broken. That talk contributed to getting him interested in taking maths further and I only need a few stories like that to keep me going!