Posts Tagged ‘10 Biggest Mathematical Disasters in the World’


2 Tulip Mania

October 20, 2009

180px-TulipomaniaTulip Mania represents all economic bubbles. This bubble began in Holland in November 1636 when the price of tulip bulbs started to rise. Tulips became fashionable with fashionable names ( eg. Alexander the Great). Bulbs were sold before they had been dug up.  Like all bubbles it ‘popped’.  (See Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, written by British journalist Charles Mackay in 1841.)

There have been many over the years from the Railway Bubble (1840s USA) to the property bubble (2007).  A stock market bubble brought about the Great Depression in the 1930s. There have also been bubbles in mining shares, computer shares (Dot Com Bubble),  art and the growing or breeding of llamas, ostriches and aloe vera. 


The Maths Error: Assuming a Graph is Linear!!!!

 tulip graph

People look at graphs and assume they straight-line graphs.  But many graphs are not based on a rule or formula but rather hope. And when hope crashes so does the value of the stock.

Take note mathspigs is because Sports Cards, comics, collectibles (eg. Bean Kids) and memorabilia (eg. Signed shirts etc) can also be prone to crashes in the school yard.  If the price for any product is unbelievable … don’t believe it!!!! There will be kids or others out there trying to tell you ‘Don’t worry. The prices are still rising.’


3 The Millennium Bridge UK

October 20, 2009

millennium bridgeThe Millennium Bridge a suspension footbridge across the Thames River in the heart of London costing $Aus 32 million opened on 10th June 2000. It closed half an hour later as pedestrians were being knocked off their feet by the swaying bridge.

The Maths Error: Designing 3D Bridge in 2D

The three big mistakes, often catastrophic, in engineering are maths, materials or human error (ie. Hitting the pylon of a bridge with a ship. Tasman Bridge Collapse Hobart.. 1975). The Millennium Bridge was a maths problem. The bridge was designed in 2D. The engineers allowed for up and down movement but not sideways movement. Any kid running across suspension bridge in a playground knows that as you run it wobbles sideways! The bridge’s movements were caused by a ‘positive feedback’ phenomenon, known as Synchronous Lateral Excitation or wobbles. It cost $Aus 9 million to dampen the bridge wobble.millennium bridge 2

A similar maths problem with suspension bridge design involves harmonics. If the wind keeps adding an extra nudge each time the bridge sways and the bridge has not been designed to dampen this effect it can break apart. (See Galloping Gertie. 1940 Bridge Tacoma Narrows Bridge Collapse. Watch for guy who saves dog from car. )


6 Air Canada Flight 143

October 20, 2009

Boeing767On 23rd July 1983 Air Canada Flight 143, a Boeing 767 ran out of fuel at 41,000 feet (12,000m) altitude, about halfway through its flight from Montreal to Edmonton. The crew managed to glide the aircraft safely to an emergency landing at Gimli Industrial Park Airport, a former airbase at Manitoba. This was some challenge. No fuel means no engines. No engines means no electronics, no steerage, no navigation. An emergency propellor driven dynamo ( similar to that used to produce light on bikes) dropped down on an arm under the plane to produce basic power for steerage. Navigation had to be by sight or calculation of speed etc. That involved some maths, mathspigs. There were no fatalities.

The Maths Error: Oops again! Muddling units of volume!

The first error was that the fuel tank gauge wasn’t working. It was to be replaced in Edmonton. The second error was a maths error. The ground crew filled the tanks according to their records. The fuel requirements were assumed to be in litres but they had been recorded in gallons.quart(Pic Right : Quarter of a Gallon)

Here it is the metric Vs Imperial problem again. This incident was shown on Air Crash Investigation (or Mayday) Season 5, Episode 6.