Mathematics is an enormous topic. You probably started your mathematical
journey when you learned your numbers around age three. And you will keep
using math for the rest of your life. You may decide that doing simple math
with a calculator takes care of your needs. Or you may continue to advanced
research with a PhD -- or anything in between.
In this article we will help you learn to evaluate your need to acquire
math skills. We will do this by describing five broad areas of applied mathematics
in today's world of work. The links will guide you to expanded discussions
of these issues.
By looking at these broad areas, you should be able to determine what types
of math instruction you will want to pursue in the future to meet your professional
and personal needs.
Management science is a branch of math that is also sometimes called operations
research. The nuts and bolts of management science are concerned with finding
ways to make operations as productive and economic as possible.
Efficiency matters to all organizations. Management science uses math to
make it possible to apply quantitative techniques (that is, techniques involving
the measurement of quantity or amount) to project planning. The underlying
principle of management science is to find the best method for solving a problem.
Some examples where special math techniques come into play are:
Efficient Circuits: This involves problems of developing efficient
circuits when the objective is to cover each segment of the circuit only once.
Some examples are parking control, mail delivery, garbage collection, street
cleaning and plowing, reading electric meters and many other tasks that require
the use of transportation networks.
Another version is involved when the objective is to visit set points in
the circuit in a certain order, or at minimum cost. These are also called
traveling salesman problems.
Planning and Scheduling: Another aspect of delivering services in
a complex society involves the accurate planning of human and machine resources.
Simple scheduling considers only independent tasks. Critical path scheduling
requires the completion of some tasks before being able to proceed with later
Linear Programming: This mathematical technique was developed to
solve mixture problems. In these problems, a variety of resources are available
in limited quantities. The desired outcome is to combine the resources to
produce the most profit. For example, a juice manufacturer has a set amount
of two different fruits available. The manufacturer can combine the fruits
in many different proportions and then sell them at variable rates of profit.
Statistics is the science of gathering data, putting them in clear and
usable form, and then interpreting them to draw conclusions about the world
Collecting Data: Problems of defining what a population is for purposes
of data collection, how the data will be collected and what experiments will
be conducted to produce data all affect the statistical results of any social
Describing Data: Collected data have to be processed to be useful.
They have to be converted to numbers and the numbers are the raw material
for drawing conclusions from the data. Numerical summaries can be represented
Probability: The result of many thousands of chance outcomes can
be known with near certainty. The theory of probability describes the predictable
long-run patterns of random outcomes.
Statistical Inference: Inference is the process of reaching conclusions
from evidence. In statistical inference, numerical evidence is used. Formal
statistical evidence requires a statement of probabilities. Statistical inference
is used in polling, testing and statistical process control in manufacturing.
Mathematics and computers play an important role in understanding social
institutions and human behavior. Mathematics is applied more and more to human
The problem in social choice is turning individual preferences for different
outcomes into a single choice by the group as a whole. The voting method used
to make the choice can significantly affect the outcome. Some of the different
types of voting methods are majority rule, strategic, sincere, sequential
and approval voting.
Weighted Voting Systems: In some voting systems "one person, one
vote" applies. But there are weighted voting systems where the vote of each
individual is based on a measure of influence. Shareholders who own stock
would be an example of this type of voter.
Game Theory: This is an approach that brings mathematics and the
scientific method to bear on the topic of conflict and cooperation. A zero-sum
game is one in which the payoff to one player is the opposite of the payoff
to the other. Various strategies are employed to achieve the best outcomes
for each player in various types of games.
Fair Division and Apportionment: The goal of fair allocation problems
is to have all participants feel that they can obtain a fair and unbiased
share of the available benefits or losses in light of the limitations present
in the situation.
Size and Shape
Mathematics is the study of patterns and relationships. The patterns may
be numerical, geometric and symmetric.
Patterns: Patterns appear in nature which are balanced, regular,
symmetric or isometric. Mathematical formulas can be used to measure these.
Patterns also apply to growth and form.
Measurement: Euclidean geometry made it possible to measure the
physical world strictly with visual observation. It provides the capability
to estimate inaccessible distances.
Modern Science: The experimental method, quantitative approach and
mathematical theory characterize modern science. Mathematical theory makes
it possible to make predictions based on observed physical laws. Elliptic
geometry applies in a system where there are no parallel lines. The theory
of relativity revolutionized science by using a new way of thinking about
events in space-time.
Computers are computational machines that were developed to perform mathematical
procedures. Computing machinery made it possible to speed up the calculation
of complex problems.
The computer began as an idea to help us understand the meaning of mathematical
proof. Mathematics continues to grow and change. Today, computers not only
help us to do calculations, they're changing the notion of mathematical proof.
Computer Algorithms: A computational procedure or finite number
of definite and effective steps that terminates on every input and produces
Computer Program: A sequence of instructions in a language that
a computer can interpret.
Computer Code: Computers use codes to represent the
specific type of information being processed. Codes are mechanisms for representing
information. Because computers are built from two-state electronic components,
they use two-state (binary) codes to represent information.