Math of Planet Earth (MPE) at the Long Night of Sciences in Berlin

May. 18, 2014

Since 2001, once a year, the long night of science takes place in Berlin and Potsdam. During this night many scientific institutions and companies open their doors to the general public between 5pm and 12am. This was originally inspired by the very successful long night of museums in Berlin. Therefore it it is not surprising that the long night of sciences was an immediate success, which becomes clear when looking at the number of visitors each year, exceeding a few hundered thousand people. 
Of course, the Freie Universität Berlin Mathematics department will not miss out on the opportunity to present current mathematics research in an understandable way to the general public. Every year varying exhibits will be shown, ranging from Lego mindstorm roboters trying to find the maxima of a hilly landscape (shown for the first time this year), or examples of 3-D printing to image recognition as well as various other topics linked to the ongoing mathematics research in the department. 
The link between the Freie Universität Berlin Mathematics department and IMAGINARY are Guillaume Jouvet and I (we are both working at the FU and are IMAGINARY team members). So it is not at all surprising that we decided to show a selection of the MPE exhibit at the Freie Universität Mathematics department during that evening.

The choice of the MPE exhibition was an obvious one, as Guillaume, myself as well as another colleague of ours from the Weierstrass Institute, Chantal Landry, are closely linked to the MPE exhibition already. One of the MPE modules is, in fact, a film about mathematical models for glaciers which is based on Guillaume’s research and was a collaborative effort of Guillaume, Chantal and myself, and of course many other people. In total we showed 3 exhibits, also currently shown at the Technische Museum Berlin until the 24th of June 2014. The other two were Dune Ash, a programme that allows to calculate the dispersion of volcanic ash based on atmospheric winds and Tsunamis, showing simulations of tsunami waves away from the epicenter and information regarding their formation and mathematical calculation. All of these phenomena are loosely related, as they use so called differential equations to discribe them describe them. The equations will look different for each of the situations but the solution of the equation is the interesting part of mathematics. However, all of them require approximate solutions by means of computer calculations, as these equations are too complex in order to be solved exactly by hand. 

During the 7 hours of the long night of science we also had support from Andreas Matt and were busy explaining the mathematics behind theses 3 phenomena (glaciers, volcanic ash dispersion and tsunamis) to young and old people alike. Everyone was very interested and curious about our exhibitions. Many people asked questions and we would often find ourselves in interesting discussions. All in all, we had a few hundred people in the room looking at our three exhibits and hopefully most of them have taken some valuable information regarding these phenomena home with them. 

I think one of the best features is that one can continue to play with programmes such as Dune Ash at home, and watch the film about glaciers again, simply by visiting the MPE exhibit on the website. My favourite moment however, was when a teenage girl called her friends to tell them that they should come to the MPE exhibition room in order to have a look at the exhibits for themselves because she enjoyed it so much herslf. 

For me the whole night was a great success and I want to thank everyone who was there: Guillaume, Andreas and Chantal, that I had the opportunity to work with such a great group of people on such a nice project. 

Here are some pictures:

The first one is of the entrance to the room. 

The entrace to the exhibition

Playing around with Dune Ash

Guillaume explaining glaciers to kids.