Swiss mathematician Elias Wirth created the “Math Section” blog earlier this month. Even though the blog is new, he’s already written several interesting posts, like this one about using the mean value theorem to catch speeding motorists. In an interview conducted over email, Wirth shared more about his blog and recommended resources for other math bloggers. (Note: The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
Rachel Crowell: What would you like to share about your own math background, including your interests and research?
Elias Wirth: I just finished my bachelor’s degree in mathematics at the University of Berne and am now looking forward to beginning my master’s degree in applied mathematics at the ETH Zurich. During my years in Berne, I developed a fascination with analysis, complex analysis especially, and applied mathematics. As a preparation for my master’s degree at the ETH, the applied mathematics professor and I then decided that I was going to write a thesis titled Linear Multistep Methods to improve my knowledge of numerical analysis.
At the moment, I am mostly interested in finding wonderful applications of mathematics in everyday life. Partial differential equations are also something that I want to spend more time on because the topic seems to be extremely diverse.
RC: I read that you launched your blog in 2018. How long has it been since you first launched?
EW: The blog was released on September 2. Everything is new to me, but the worst part is over and I can now focus on writing articles.
RC: What inspired you to start a blog?
EW: I already mentioned my bachelor’s thesis. I wrote the first draft in a week and a half, not because I had to, but because I wanted to. During the writing process I was able to enter a state of concentration that was really satisfying. I woke up in the morning and started writing and would not stop until I went to bed. (During my last semester, I didn’t attend many lectures. Thus, I was able to basically take two weeks off and focus on writing.) I had never before learnt so efficiently and with so much joy. The idea of starting my own blog probably originated during that time. All that I needed to really go for it was one last push. This final push came from my co-worker telling me about his fashion blog and how much fun it was to write for others. It was at that moment that I knew I just had to go for it.
RC: What are some of the things you have learned about communicating about math since you first started your blog?
EW: There are mainly three things that I learned. First, I learned that it is really important to write a good title. People get flooded with information on a daily basis and the title needs to capture their attention. Second, I am surprised by the number of people that are really interested in reading about applications of mathematics. A lot of people from all over the world are eager to broaden their knowledge, which is just wonderful. Third, there are a lot of people that have already established their own blog, website or Facebook page that are very friendly. They are willing to support a new blog like mine if they feel like one is serious about informing people about mathematics.
RC: What suggestions do you have for other math folks who are interested in launching a blog?
EW: Let me give a short list:
Launching a blog takes an insane amount of time and patience if you do not have any prior knowledge of it. Make sure you have a couple of weeks dedicated to the process of setting everything up. Get a professional backup service for your blog. I have already used mine after two weeks when I basically broke my admin area. (It is just an anecdote of course, so take this one with a grain of salt.) I am not a native speaker and have quite some trouble with commas in the English language. The Chrome extension Grammarly improves my grammar quite a bit.
Let others read your articles and give you some feedback before you publish them.
Be polite but dedicated. Contact social media pages, groups, etc. and ask them to share your articles. Some of them will. It is a numbers game.
RC: Are there any resources you recommend to other math bloggers?
EW: Yes, there are a lot of useful tools out there that I can recommend. You can use PowerPoint to easily create simple graphics. Get a LaTeX-plugin for your blog up and running as soon as possible and make sure that it looks nice on the mobile version of your site.
Use R, Octave, or Matlab to plot functions and make beautiful graphics to support your arguments visually.
You can download stock images and use them for free at Pexels.
RC: What are a few of your favorite blogs and what do you like about them?
EW: I read Terry Tao’s blog. He has come so far and is still grounded and focused. That is very impressive.
RC: Is there anything you would like to share about your career goals and how becoming a better math communicator might tie in with those?
EW: Being able to articulate my ideas properly is definitely something I want to improve. In the next two years, I want to finish my master’s degree and hopefully continue with a PhD focusing on applied mathematics.
RC: Is there anything else you would like to share?
EW: I would like to thank my family and especially my girlfriend for their patience and support. It would not have been possible to create this project without their aid. I would also like to thank you for conducting this interview with me.