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Undisciplined: Using Math To Avoid Mis-steaks

Ted Eytan, creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

We're talking to two mathematicians who have harnessed the power of numbers to solve one of the biggest challenges of the kitchen: how to cook a perfect steak. And yes, this is a fun and whimsical use of math, but it's also a true accomplishment in macromolecular science.

When Hala Nelson and John Webb wanted to know how to cook the perfect steak, they applied a nearly 80-year-old mathematical model to answer the question, and they came up with some fascinating conclusions about how fluid and heat move through meat as it cooks. Hala Nelson is an associate professor of applied mathematics at James Madison University where she focuses her research on material science, inverse problems, and partial differential equations. John Webb is an associate professor of pure mathematics at James Madison University and a number theorist who studies classical modular forms and their applications.

Matthew LaPlante has reported on ritual infanticide in Northern Africa, insurgent warfare in the Middle East, the legacy of genocide in Southeast Asia, and gang violence in Central America. But a few years back, something donned on him: Maybe the news doesn't have to be brutally depressing all the time. Today, he balances his continuing work on more heartbreaking subjects by writing books about the intersection of science, human health and society, including the New York Times best-selling Lifespan with geneticist David Sinclair and the Nautilus Award-winning Longevity Plan with cardiologist John Day. His first solo book, Superlative, looks at what scientists are learning by studying organisms that have evolved in record-setting ways, and his is currently at work on another book about embracing the inevitability of human-caused climate change with an optimistic outlook on the future.