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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Math, the Universal Language?

Photo: Shamree Howard
Engineer’s Bookshelf
"If we could somehow speak in mathematics instead of English, how many miscommunications would we be able to negate?" writes Shamree Howard.

I was watching one of my favorite movies the other night, Contact with Jodi Foster. There are so many great quotes in this movie, and I find myself getting caught up in the “what if” about life on other planets. It’s also a movie that I can show to my friends and family where spectrum analyzers, frequencies, and math all come together. It gives them a small glimpse into what test and measurement equipment can be used for. 

One quote in particular stuck with me after the movie: “Mathematics is the only truly universal language.” I let that phrase roll around inside my head for a while because, fundamentally, I agree with this statement, but then again it causes me problems. 

I studied abroad in France during college and participated in two electrical engineering classes and labs. I was amazed to see the female-to-male ratio in the electrical engineering classes was 1:100, but that is another topic.

One class I participated in was a repeat of one I had completed in the US. I wanted to see how the teaching methods were different and assumed it would be easy to understand since I already knew the topic. The second class was completely new to me, and I was scheduled to take it when I returned to the US. Both classes were extremely hard for me to understand in French. Of course, there were words and symbols that were universal, or at least easy to understand, like “Ω” and “électronique,” but I spent most of my time in class flipping through my dictionary. How I wish I had had an iPhone with me at the time!

I once hosted a foreign exchange student from China, and too many times we said, "Thank you, Steve Jobs," because the iPhone and iPad translation applications have been invaluable. Our exchange student was very intelligent, and, as a freshman, her math skills were two levels above her grade level. However, she had trouble in her math class. 

Source: EE Times