“STEM toys encourage kids to develop skills in the core disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and math,” says Amazon on its new page. “We chose these toys because they have clear goals and encourage kids to learn STEM skill while having fun.”

Some featured products include LEGO sets, Roominate systems, modular robotics kits, light circuit kits, LightUp Edison kits, a Solar System planetarium, and remote control machines. On the page, you can filter toys by age (Preschool, 5-7 year, 8-11 years, and 12+ years) or by Amazon’s own editor picks.

Of course, promoting STEM values is a noble cause, but Amazon isn’t just doing this for the sake of young minds. According to TechCrunch, “the retailer notes that not only are STEM toys a ‘hot trend’ in education, but they were also the second-most visited section and the second highest in terms of sales volume on Amazon’s 2014 Holiday.”

STEM is hot right now, in other words.

In other Amazon-specific storefront news, the company just launched a dedicated destination for Shark Tank stuff and other “up-and-coming products” called Amazon Exclusives.

]]>The study, published in the *Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry*, has provided evidence linking genetic factors to significant differences in both the anxiety felt toward math and math performance. Genetics were found to make up to a 40% difference between students in otherwise identical environmental situations.

“Genetic factors may exacerbate or reduce the risk of doing poorly at math,” said Stephen Petrill, a co-author of the study and a professor of psychology at Ohio StateUniversity. “If you have these genetic risk factors for math anxiety and then you have negative experiences in math classes, it may make learning that much harder. It is something we need to account for when we’re considering interventions for those who need help in math.”

Petrill and his colleagues looked at hundreds of sets of twins, both idential and fraternal enrolled in the Western Reserve Reading and Math Projects. The twins were enrolled in the program in kindergarten and followed throughout their primary school educations. Based on math comprehensive exams and math anxiety assessments, the researchers were able to statistically determine how the genetically-identical twins differed from the fraternal pairs while separating out environmental factors.

Though genetic factors are not the majority influence on math skills, the study’s authors believe that math anxiety, related to general anxiety, can set children down an early path to poor math skills, with can further fuel math anxiety.

“You say the word ‘math’ and some people actually cringe,” said Petrill. “It is not like learning how to read, in which people don’t normally have any general anxiety unless they have some kind of difficulty.

“If we can get a better idea of what provokes this anxiety response, we may be able to develop a better intervention for those with math anxiety,”

*Image via Thinkstock*

More specifically, the study, published in the *Journal of Health Communication*, showed that math anxiety can lead to less comprehension of messages that include statistic or are based on numbers. The opposite was also found to be true: those with higher confidence in their math skills were better at comprehending such messages.

“This is the first study that we know of to take math anxiety to a health and risk setting,” said Roxanne Parrott, a co-author of the study and a . “Math skills have become a common element in many health and risk message studies, which addresses the skill component of math competence but ignores the cognitive and affective components.”

The study looked at 323 university students, giving them one of three messages arranged with varying amounts of text, percentages, and graphs. By measuring the participants’ math confidence, skills, and anxiety, researchers found the connection between math anxiety and message comprehension. In addition, study participants with math anxiety also assigned more importance to written statistics rather than graphs, demonstrating how math graphics, often thought to simplify data, could be less effective than text.

“This is one more piece of evidence about the importance of applied math education, in which students tackle real world messages and content when learning math skills,” said Parrott. “We have to focus on teaching people math, but also we need to tell people that they do have the skills, and find strategic ways to communicate that ease anxiety and worry about understanding math.”

]]>“It’s time to bring a scientific framework to this problem,” said Dominik Wodarz, the lead author of a new paper published in the journal *PLOS ONE*. “Can we design a rational way to argue about guns?”

Wodarz is a mathematical biologist at the University of California at Irvine. He and his wife, Natalia Komarova, also a mathematician at UC Irvine, looked at gun control and gun death data from the past 100 years. They then developed a set of equations meant to surface effective gun control policies.

“This debate cannot be settled satisfactorily by verbal arguments alone, since these are often driven by opinion and lack a solid scientific backing,” wrote Wodarz. “What is under debate is essentially an epidemiological problem: How do different gun control strategies affect the rate at which people become killed by attackers, and how can this rate be minimized?”

The couple found that for common domestic and one-on-one gun crimes, reducing the availability of legal firearms is likely to lower death rates – as long as laws are properly enforced. For mass shootings, the results showed that armed citizens could help reduce the number of deaths – but only if trained to avoid shooting bystanders.

The study’s authors were quick to point out that parts of their equations would benefit from better data. For example, data is weak on how many offenders illegally possess guns or how to quantify how protected people who own legal firearms actually are.

“If the current discussion could be steered toward science, rather than having a heated debate without much of a logical foundation, a big step forward toward saving lives would be achieved,” wrote Wodarz.

]]>Shakuntala Devi became famous as a child while traveling with her father’s circus, astounding the people of India with her ability to calculate large sums in her head. Her father had discovered her talents while playing a card game with her at just three years old.

Devi eventually won a place in the Guinness Book Of World Records in 1982 by correctly multiplying two 13-digit numbers in under 30 seconds. The numbers were 7,686,369,774,870 and 2,465,099,745,779, with an answer of 18,947,668,177,995,426,462,773,730.

Devi fascinated American researcher Arthur Jensen, who once saw her find the cube root of two eight-digit numbers before his wife could even start the stopwatch. To Devi, he said, “The manipulation of numbers was like a native language, whereas for most of us arithmetic calculation is at best like the foreign language we learned in school.”

Devi performed in front of audiences throughout her childhood, earning money for her family with a talent unlike any most had ever seen.

“I had become the sole breadwinner of my family, and the responsibility was a huge one for a young child,” she once said. “At the age of 6, I gave my first major show at the University of Mysore, and this was the beginning of my marathon of public performances.”

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]]>Euler is known for introducing most modern mathematical terminology and notation.

Euler was born on April 15th, 1707 in Basel, Switzerland to a pastor and a pastor’s daughter. In his early life, Euler studied under famed mathematician Johann Bernoulli and entered the University of Basel at the age of 13. He received his Master of Philosophy just three years later after a dissertation on Descartes and Newton.

He spent most of his adult life in St. Petersburg, Russia and in Berlin, Prussia. In St. Petersburg, Euler served a position in the Imperial Russian Academy of Sciences’ mathematics department. He stayed in St. Petersburg from 1727 to 1741, when he left for Berlin to take up a post offered by Frederick the Great of Prussia. There is where Euler published his most important work: The *Introductio in analysin infinitorum* (1748), which was about mathematical functions, and the *Institutiones calculi differentialis* (1755) on differential calculus.

Euler is considered the most important mathematician of his era and one of the most important mathematicians of all time. He worked in nearly every field of mathematics, including algebra, geometry, calculus,and number theory. He also worked in some areas of physics.

Euler is the only man to have two mathematical numbers named after him. “Euler’s Number” in calculus (e), and the Euler-Mascheroni Constant (γ).

Euler was also known for his work in fluid dynamics, mechanics, and astronomy, one of the most prolific mathematicians of all time, Euler’s collected works fill dozens of volumes.

]]>Too bad it’s simply not going to happen for you. Sorry, man.

DePaul professor Jeff Bergen is here to give to a clear, concise explanation on why you’ll never fill out a perfect bracket. And not just you – nobody is likely to fill out a perfect bracket. There are simply too many possible outcomes. And you’re probably basing your decisions on which mascot would win in a fight anyway. Or team colors. Don’t lie, we know how you pick brackets.

[DePaul Newsroom] ]]>“You only need 39 digits of pi to be able to measure the circumference of the observable universe within the width of one hydrogen atom.”

Whoa.

[Numberphile via Gizmodo] ]]>Having said that, my time would have been a lot more enjoyable if I would have been able to play Portal instead of that “hey which urinal should I chose” game.

Today’s cool thing of the day is this Portal clone, Portal Prelude, which is playalbe on the TI-83 Plus and TI-84 Plus series of graphing calculators.

If you want to play it, it’s downloadable here.

[Builderboy via The Daily What] ]]>Today, AsapSCIENCE tackles the Monty Hall problem – the classic questions that stems from the game show “Let’s Make a Deal.” Let’s say you are given the choice between three doors – and there’s a car behind one of them. You pick door #1. Monty then reveals one of the wrong doors, #3. He asks if you want to change to door #2. Do you do it?

Surprisingly, yes. It may seem pointless, but making the switch actually increases your odds of winning. Check out how:

Last week, AsapSCIENCE looked at the real possibility of a zombie apocalypse. You should check that out too.

]]>As you can see from the image above, Google will display this entire calculator interface, enabling users to conduct additional calculations right from the results page. It’s pretty cool. It also works beautifully from mobile devices.

We tried it on Android and iPhone. If you you’re holding your phone vertically, a smaller calculator appears, but if you hold it horizontally, the full scientific calculator takes over the screen.

Google’s Matt Cutts notes that the feature is currently available at Google.com only because they want to make sure it works before rolling it out globally.

@ralphbin often we start features like this on http://t.co/ybzOP7u3 to make sure everything works..

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Engineering Degree put together an inforgraphic that illustrates the disparity among the genders in the engineering field and highlights some of the more troubling aspects of this problem, such as how only 20% of women who obtain a degree in math and sciences actually have jobs in a related field. While some cultural gadflies bemoan that we’re not focusing as much on boys these days and are therefore leaving them behind in educational development, one need not really look much further than the information in this infographic to determine one of two things: that claim is false; or, if that claim is true, then our education system is failing in far worse, more perplexing ways than we can begin to imagine.

And no, it’s not because we pay teachers too much.

Created by: EngineeringDegree.net

“A lackluster investment in science and innovation is driving fears among Americans about our world dominance in the years ahead,” said ResearchAmerica Chair and former Illinois Congressman John E. Porter. “These concerns will likely increase unless policy makers take action to avoid serious consequences, such as a major loss of U.S. jobs, business, medical breakthroughs and output in innovation.”

Only 23% of Americans consider the U.S. first in medical and health research today. And an overwhelming majority (91%) say it is important for the U.S. to maintain its world leadership role, as other nations such as China and India ramp up their investment.

Americans are especially concerned about funding cuts to medical and health research. Upon hearing that federal spending for medical and health research (after adjusting for inflation) has declined over the past five years, more than half of likely voters (57%) had a negative reaction to the cut in spending. Moreover, 54% think that federal spending for medical and health research should be exempt from across-the-board cuts outlined in the Budget Control Act of 2011.

“With the threat of automatic cuts on the horizon, a significant amount of federally supported research and innovation will be shelved, impacting the pace of scientific discovery in the U.S. and forcing patients to stand aside as other priorities dominate,” said Mary Woolley, president and CEO of ResearchAmerica. “We simply cannot afford to jeopardize our leadership and settle for second best. Elected officials and candidates must make stronger commitments to sustaining our world-class status in research and innovation.”

More than half of likely voters (64%) say they would be more likely to vote for a presidential candidate who supports increased government funding for medical and health research. A vast majority of likely voters also think it is important for presidential and congressional candidates to debate issues relating to science, innovation and health.

Poll highlights include:

Pi Day is celebrated once a year, on March 14th, as the date aligns with the first few digits of Pi (3.14). Pi, of course, is everyone’s favorite mathematical constant as it is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. Tons of mathematical formulas use Pi, and this translates into real-life scientific and engineering applications. The world would be a terrible place without ~~pie~~ Pi, indeed.

On that note, let’s look at some of the best Pi Day related stuff the Internet has to offer. First up is this amazing video shared today by the Official YouTube Google+ page. Check out what happens when you assign music to all the digits in Pi.

Pi has reportedly been mapped out to 10 trillion digits, but you can check out the first million at piday.org. Fun games you can play here include turning on your browser’s find feature and looking up certain number patterns within Pi. For instance, my birthday (5/28/86) appears very early on in Pi:

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Remember, Pi day can also be turned in Pie day. Literally. Flip is around and see what you have…mind blown:

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Twitter is pretty excited about the day:

Happy Pi Day! It’s 3.14 (March 14). Such an irrational celebration.

Hello, followers! We here at YAN wish you a very happy Pi Day!!

I’d say happy Pi day but we would have to wait till 2015 for a better post…

It’s pi-day, pi-day. Gotta get down on pi-day.

Not everyone is happy about an annual Pi Day celebration (via reddit):

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And Dwight’s not the only one. Just wait until June 28th, and you’ll see plenty of Pi Day haters speak out. That’s because 6/28 is also a celebrated mathematical holiday: Tau Day. Tau is 6.28, or, double Pi. Tau purists argue that Pi is an insignificant number, only half of the real significant number. They say that Tau should be the true celebrated circle constant, as it is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its radius.

But Tau doesn’t have a delicious, flaky, succulent homophone.

]]>The Wolfram Alpha team typically updates the site every week in order to produce better functionality, and when you’re a site that people depend on for statistical data and differential equations such updates are expected. Late yesterday afternoon, though, the Wolfram Alpha team teased at something bigger on the horizon:

A big change is coming soon to Wolfram|Alpha, including some dramatic functionality enhancements! Learn more:

In the accompanying blog post, the Wolfram Alpha team was mum about any details but it’s enough to create intrigue about what could be coming down the pipes. All they teased was that the change will be a “dramatic enhancement of functionality” and that you’ll be able to “personalize your interaction” with the site.

The post assures users that, although these changes are going to be huge, it won’t change any of the ways in which people use Wolfram Alpha. Any Wolfram users out there got any ideas about what kind of changes could be in store for the website? Maybe applications that can be applied against previous search results? Anybody? Pipe in below with your comments.

]]>“Students and math lovers can now plot mathematical functions right on the search result page,” a Google spokesperson tells WebProNews. “Just type in a function and you’ll see an interactive graph on the top of the search results page — or will be able to soon, once this rolls out to all users over the coming days.”

Here’s an example of what you could see:

You can zoom in and out or pan across the plane. Users can also draw multiple functions. Do this by separating them with commas.

“This feature covers an extensive range of single variable functions including trigonometric, exponential, logarithmic and their compositions, and is available in modern browsers,” says Google engineer Adi Avidor.

Google has been pretty helpful as a calculator in the past, particularly with Chrome’s omnibox. When you’re using the web, it’s even easier than opening up your computer’s calculator application. Now, Google’s just getting better as a math tool.

]]>Hartl put “The Tau Manifesto” online last year, just in time for Tau Day, which is June 28th. Or 6 – 28. More on that later.

He bases the manifesto on the statements of another mathematician named Bob Palais, who is a research professor at the University of Utah. He suggested that “π Is Wrong.”

Here’s the basic argument among mathematicians regarding pi and tau (π and τ). And trust me, I do mean basic, because as soon as I see integral and sigma symbols on a page my eyes start twitching and I black out.

In short, pi is not a important or significant number, according to Hartl. It is actually only half of the actual significant number, which is tau. In the manifesto he argues that pi is not the true “circle constant” because it is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. The true circle constant is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its radius, which is tau.

Since the radius is half the diameter, tau is double pi. Pi = 3.14 and tau = 6.28. June 28th. Are we on the same page now?

People who follow this belief about tau have attempted to rid March 14th of its distinction as Pi Day and instead refer to it as “Half Tau Day.” They believe that the world has an irrational love affair with pi, so we can’t shake what is actually a maddening way to calculate things.

I submit that “Pi Day” is so popular because it is equated to “Pie Day,” but that’s just a speculation.

Our society’s craziness, as explained in the manifesto –

What is really going on here is that, at its core, π is half of something. It’s the something that is fundamental, not π. And yet, when looking at the various equations of mathematics, even after reading this manifesto you might be tempted by the thought that the difference between π and τ isn’t really that important after all. You may find yourself saying, “Both numbers are important: sometimes π is better, sometimes τ is more natural, and sometimes they are equally good.”This line of thinking misses the point. Imagine we lived in a world where we used the letter h to represent “one half”, and had no separate notation for 2h. We would then observe that h is ubiquitous in mathematics. In fact, 2h is the multiplicative identity, so how can one doubt the importance of h? All mathematicians and geeks agree, h is where it’s at.

But this is madness: 2h is the fundamental number, not h. Let us therefore introduce a separate symbol for 2h; call it “1”. We then see that h=1/2, and there is no longer any reason to use h at all. Arguing that π is important in mathematics is the same as arguing that h is important. Well, yes, lots of formulas contain a factor of 1/2, but that’s no reason to use a separate letter for the concept. The same goes for π: if the notation did not already exist, it seems unlikely that anyone would see fit to invent it. π, like our hypothetical h, is superfluous: h is just 1/2; π is just τ/2.

When you think of it that way, it does begin to sound a little backwards.

But the real question is whether or not Tau Day will catch on the way that Pi Day has. Pi Day is huge on the interwebs. It’s only in its infancy as a celebration, but how does Tau Day stack up?

Well, Tau has been trending on both Google and Twitter all day. And the video below is gaining some viral steam. The video, entitled “What Tau Sounds Like” is a musical representation of the first 126 decimal places of tau. The artist, Michael John Blake, also musically interpreted pi, but that video was taken down due to a copyright claim.

Yes, someone thinks they own the rights to the digits of pi. Here’s what Blake has to say about that case on his YouTube channel –

Lars Erickson, composer of the “Pi Symphony” is suing me because he believes he owns the melody you get when you convert the digits of Pi to music. What he thinks he’s going to gain from suing a broke musician is beyond me, but his misguided notions of justice will be put in their place sooner or later. My legal team is presently working on my defense of this ludicrous claim, but the fact that this little song I made is now a federal case is just so stupid.

The song is quite beautiful, and pretty melancholy. Check it out –

Will Tau Day truly catch on? It’s too early to tell. But I’m sure its chances would rise if someone created a delicious dessert called Tau.

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