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What's Happening in the Mathematical Sciences, Vol. 6

Dana Mackenzie, Barry Cipra

(American Mathematical Society, 2007)


Visualizing Geology

Barbara Murck, Brian Skinner, Dana Mackenzie

(John Wiley & Sons, 2007)

The Big Splat, or How Our Moon Came to Be

Dana Mackenzie

(John Wiley & Sons, 2003)


What's Happening in the Mathematical Sciences...

... is a great way to catch up on interesting developments in mathematics during the period from 2000 to 2006. Co-written with Barry Cipra (who wrote Volumes 1-5 of the series), What's Happening contains ten chapters of 8 to 14 pages each, in which you can learn

  • the latest news about the million-dollar Poincaré Conjecture
  • what Escher-like tilings have to do with ends of three-dimensional manifolds
  • how mathematicians computed the trillionth digit of pi
  • how a water strider walks on water (standing on water is the easy part!)
  • how a Rubik's Cube led to new discoveries in number theory

and lots more! With clarity and occasional wit (especially in Barry's chapters!), Cipra and I make these topics accessible to readers who have no more than a high-school background in mathematics. Beautiful color photos and diagrams bring the mathematics to life. What's Happening can be purchased from the publisher, the American Mathematical Society.

NEW! Now you can listen to my description of Chapter 8, "Fluid Dynamics Explains Mysteries of Insect Motion." This short interview (3:22, MP3) was recorded by Michael Breen of the American Mathematical Society.


Copyright Notice

All text on this website is © Dana Mackenzie.

Image copyrights may belong to other people or organizations. Contact me for further information.

Visualizing Geology...

... is a new geology textbook that combines the geological expertise of co-authors Brian Skinner (Yale University) and Barbara Murck (University of Toronto) with my writing talents. This is part of Wiley's new Visualizing series of textbooks, which targets visual learners with image-rich exposition. This book was produced in collaboration with the National Geographic Society, and I can attest that a special treat in putting it together was the chance to browse through the National Geographic's vast archive of gorgeous images from around the world. Students will appreciate the fact that this is not standard textbook fare; some of the images are works of art. Other special features found in each chapter of Visualizing Geology are:

  • Amazing Places, a mini-tour that takes the students to a unique location that exemplifies the themes of the chapter;
  • What's Happening in this Picture?, a puzzle that encourages students to combine their deductive skills with their geologic knowledge;
  • Process Diagrams, which lead the students step by step through a geological process;
  • Visualizing, multi-part diagrams that bring together several related processes;
  • What a Geologist Sees, which shows how even common phenomena such as tilted strata, gemstones, or tides take on new meaning when you look at them through a geologist's eyes.
The Big Splat, or How Our Moon Came to Be ...

... is an intriguing celestial whodunit that traces the long story of humanity's fascination with the Moon. What is it? How did it get there? Beginning in the nineteenth century, the question of the Moon's origin moved from the realm of speculation to evidence-based theory. Three theories, in fact, all based on (somewhat) sound scientific principles. The leading scientific mission of the Apollo missions was to break this intellectual logjam and tell how the Moon really came to be.

But a funny thing happened when Apollo went to the Moon. None of the theories could successfully account for the chemical composition of the Moon rocks and the Moon's geological history. All three theories turned out to be impostors! Instead, planetary scientists now accept a fourth theory as the most likely explanation. (SPOILER ALERT! Skip the next paragraph if you want to find out the answer from the book.)

Earth actually collided with another planet, which I call Theia, when our planet was about 1 percent of its present age. This was the most cataclysmic event in Earth's history, trillions of times bigger than the meteorite impact that killed the dinosaurs. It nearly destroyed our planet, but instead it gave us a new satellite, which formed out of the debris of the collision. The giant impact theory (or "Big Splat," as I call it) actually explains much more than the origin of the Moon; it is part of a whole new understanding of the formation of planetary systems. To quote Nature magazine: "Mackenzie's book emphasizes the fact that impacts have been the primary creative and destructive process throughout the history of the Solar System."

The Big Splat tells the fascinating story of how real science is done, how scientists make mistakes and don't always find what they expect to. If you've ever wondered what we learned from the Apollo missions, you must read this book!