Photo: NASA on Flickr
While reviewing our feature on the 17 equations that changed the world, we asked Mathematician Ian Stewart what equations missed the cut for his book, and what the future of mathematics might look like.He mentioned Google’s search algorithms and better equations describing the actual function of financial markets, but here’s his bet for what’s really going to change everything:
Finance aside, I think the next really big NEW equation is going to emerge from mathematical biology. There are at least three areas ripe for an effective mathematical model: development (from egg to adult), ecosystems, and evolution. I think we will need a new concept of ‘equation’, though — one that incorporates all of the genetic information in DNA, and other biochemical systems, and combines that with many other influences from the outside world.
Prorfessor Stewart mentioned the Hodgkins-Huxley model as a starting point and example. When asked what he almost included, he wrote:
At one stage I planned to include the Hodgkin-Huxley equations, which gave mathematical biology a huge boost by using equations to model the way nerve cells send signals to each other. It formed the basis of theoretical neuroscience, and is still important. But it made the book too long, and in the end I felt that its impact on human history has not yet been quite great enough. However, that is likely to change by the middle of this century, as mathematical methods become a major part of mainstream biology—which I think they will.
This is an area with a huge amount of potential that scientists and mathematicians have only just begun to explore in depth. We’ve made great strides in biology and mathematics, combining them could revolutionise both.
Don’t miss: The 17 Equations That Changed The World >