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Math Avoiders, Check This Out!

For soccer legend Sepp Herberger, there was no doubt about it: “The ball is round,” the former trainer for the German national team told fans. But is it really round?

Dec 16, 2010

Freude an Zahlen zu vermitteln ist das Ziel der Wissenschaftler aus zwölf europäischen Ländern, die an dem Projekt mitarbeiten.
Scientists from 12 European countries participating in the project are aiming to convey that numbers are fun. Image Credit: kallejipp/

At soccer fans with a soft spot for math learn the true shape of a FIFA-approved ball – and even more amazing and worthwhile facts from the world of numbers.

The new European Internet platform, which was officially launched just a few weeks ago, is like an international version of the popular German website, which aims to prompt math avoiders of all ages to have fun with numbers.

The site is operated under the auspices of the European Mathematical Society (EMS) and is being developed in Berlin. The manager in charge of the project is Professor Ehrhard Behrends of the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science at Freie Universität. Mathematicians from twelve European countries are participating in the project.

Like its German counterpart, the new international website offers interested audiences information on all aspects of mathematics. It is expressly aimed at laypeople, not specialists, says Behrends, explaining the principle behind the project: “The texts and articles are written and laid out in such a way that even people without any particular math skills can understand them.” Since it is highly unlikely that any user of the site can speak all of the languages used in Europe, all of the content is provided in English. “But texts from all countries are included both in the original language and in an English translation,” Behrends says.

The content of the site focuses on three areas. First, it provides general information on mathematics: What is mathematics in the first place? What do mathematicians actually do? What does this discipline have to do with philosophy, music, and art? The second area of focus is providing help, where the site already offers the largest specialized lexicon of mathematics online: Users can find information on more than 600 specialized mathematical terms – currently in 14 European languages, with more to follow. Plus, since English is the lingua franca of many academic fields, including mathematics, the site also offers special help for users who want to discuss math in English. Third, and finally, the site is also aimed at mathematicians who are planning math-centered public relations actions and campaigns in their home countries, such as activities surrounding the Long Night of the Sciences (Lange Nacht der Wissenschaften) in Berlin, math-themed exhibitions, or articles in the popular press.

The international team of professors working on the site, who plan to expand it over the next few months, are receiving support from a student working group in Berlin. The math students are handling areas including research and entering content into the database. Plus, now that the insurance company Munich Re has been brought in as a sponsor, the project is also on a secure financial footing. That means the project is well rounded indeed – quite unlike a soccer ball.

Further Information

Prof. Ehrhard Behrends, Department of Mathematics and Computer Science
Tel. +49 (0)30 838 75361