Math plays a huge role in our daily lives. Often times it is overlooked because it’s presence is not always so obvious. For example, it’s just so easy for any of us to just get up in morning and flip on a light switch without thinking about the mathematic equations and circuity behind it. When running to the restroom the average person is not thinking about the detailed levels of mathematical modeling involved in their city’s drainage systems. Although we do not often recognize it’s presence, math is everywhere. It helps physicist better explain our general understanding of the universe, and it is everyone’s “go to” when we attempt to explain our general concept of time.
It is Important to Talk About the Various Applications of Math
In previous post, I’ve tended to share a few of my experiences with math over the years, and not all of those experiences were positive. As a teenager, I did not think about the larger roles of math application, and how those roles affected our society and daily lives. I was preoccupied with another immediate and universal understanding of mathematical application. That application was counting money. I knew two things, math could help me count money, and it is hard to survive in virtually any society without money. Outside of that, people did occasionally talk about using math to build bridges and houses, but that was of no interest to me at the time. There were no deeper conversations had. I’d be naive to think that that experience was unique to me. Honestly, I think if you were to ask just about anyone to think of a quick application of math, the popular answer would likely involve money as opposed to time. Even though money may be the popular answer, in reality we look at our clocks far more times throughout the day than we do our bank accounts, and time is far more important than money.
In this post, I would like to highlight three common applications of mathematics that may not seem so obvious. I hope that this post is able inspire others, and get them thinking about other forms of mathematical application, and how that application affects our everyday lives. Maybe the knowledge of these applications can potentially lead to interesting new career options, or an inner embrace of personal talent that can serve to assist others in meaningful change for the betterment of society.
Let’s start with search engines. Most people are familiar with search engines. You may have found this site through a search engine. Two very popular search engines are Google and Bing. Search engines use matrices. Google search happens to use an enormous matrix. The use of linear algebra, probability, and graph theory allows the Google search feature to find the most popular sites for our various desired subjects. Just think about the billions of users logged onto Google at one time. Now think of the billions of available websites out there online. Somehow through all of that complexity, Google brings the results to you in the blink of an eye. Now after thinking about that, let’s also keep in mind that the number of people online and the number of websites online will only continue to grow. The thing that ultimately sets Google apart from other search engines is their implementation of statistical models and the data sets that those models continue to provide for ongoing research. The application of those models also happens to be of interest to the federal government. Google’s implementation of statistics has proved to be extremely valuable for the company and has served to familiarize us all with their unique page ranking system. Their statistical data has also been applied to Youtube for it’s video search rankings. The math behind Google search and Youtube is pretty high level stuff, but just remember that the individuals who were instrumental in implementing that math had to start somewhere. If you would like to read more about the math behind Google, here is an interesting piece from the American Mathematical Society.
The Coronavirus is still a fresh topic in our current world news cycle. To bring a sense of relevance and current practical application to this post, I thought that now would be a good time to highlight epidemic analysis. In order for us to find the reproductive ratio of any epidemic or potential epidemic we must use math. During any epidemic, the best case scenario is to always contain the spread of a disease and limit a larger number of people to possible exposure. This part may seem obvious. If ‘Ro’ represents the number of people infected, then at Ro > 1 there is an increased risk of infection. At Ro < 1, the epidemic dies. The strategy to control an epidemic is based on lowering Ro. Ro can also be affected by things such as location and limited resources (i.e. vaccines, or other supplies). This is a simple explanation for something that can be far more complicated (as we are all very aware of). Right now health professional from all over the world are painstakingly conducting epidemic analyses, and in the end we’ll likely be better off for it. Hopefully it will also lead to a wider embrace of scientific interest and literacy moving forward. True epidemic analysis does involve high level math, but this is also the type of math application that can present meaningful change for the betterment of society. If you would like to read about a few Coronavirus analyses, listed below are some interesting links.
National Center for Biotechnology Information: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7274585/
Ourworldindata.org : https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus
Johns Hopkins: https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/data/mortality
Medicine and Pharmacology
Math also plays a pretty large role in medicine and pharmacology. In regards to medicine and pharmacology, math is used in drug development and yearly budgeting for new treatments. Cost and benefits are weighed in order to determine an optimal price for services based on a quality of life ratio. This also means that various drug treatments may not be prescribed even though they have the potential to significantly improve a persons life. The goal is to not only look at the length of time that a particular drug can increase a persons life, but to also consider a persons quality of life. Such a thing is often consider during radiation based treatments. Because of this, regulatory agencies have developed a measurement called “Quality adjusted life year”. Listed below is a description according to Wikipedia.
The quality-adjusted life year or quality-adjusted life-year (QALY) is a generic measure of disease burden, including both the quality and the quantity of life lived. It is used in economic evaluation to assess the value of medical interventions. One QALY equates to one year in perfect health. QALY scores range from 1 (perfect health) to 0 (dead). QALYs can be used to inform personal decisions, to evaluate programs, and to set priorities for future programs.
Math is Everywhere
Let’s just wrap this up by making the point that math is everywhere. Math is a foundation of science. It is because of math that we have a deeper understanding of science. The funny thing about math is that it has always been here. The constant forces that we attempt to explain through math such as gravity and the speed of light, do not care if we understand them or not. They’re just there. Those constants were obeying certain mathematical laws long before we were here and they will continue to do so long after we’re gone. Understanding math and it’s application to everything around us is one of the best shots that we have at better understanding our modern world, and our universe. Math is present in particle motion, and planetary rotation. It is literally everywhere. The best part is that there are still concepts out there for us to discover, and theories out there to be explored.
I’d like to end by stating that it is important for everyone to continuously talk to young people about the larger roles of math application and how those applications affects our society and everyday lives. There may be an individual out there who has a natural aptitude for the subject but fails to embrace it because the deeper concepts were never fully introduced or talked about in their immediate social circles.
For anyone out there looking to brush up on a few math concepts or explore new ones, I’ve listed some great websites below. In addition, please remember that there are a few websites listed under the “Free Classes” tab which can direct anyone to open online math courses.
If you would like to subscribe to the STEMVoodoo.com mailing list, please enter your first name and email below.