How high school maths is used IRL

High school maths

Find out how high school maths is used in real life… We’re talking all sorts of cool STEM jobs!

Maths is all around us and has enabled all the features of our modern world. Doing maths is all about looking for – and working with – patterns. It has its own language and rules, and once you master the basics you’ll have it nailed.

The maths we learn at school is organised into categories to help us learn the language and rules quicker: there’s numbers and algebra, measurement and geometry, and statistics and probability. But, in the real world, engineers, scientists, software developers, industrial designers and astronauts use a combination of different kinds of maths concepts to help with challenges like solving climate change, using energy more efficiently and even
in space exploration.

While using their maths skills, these STEM experts are also considering other things like sustainability, ethics and social impacts. Everything in the world around you is connected and starts with the maths you learn at school.

Check out these four fun facts on how maths matters…

1. Analysing data to save the bees

There are more than 2000 types of Australian bees! Often called ‘nature’s engineers’ because of the complexity of their hives, bees use repeating hexagons (tessellations) to build a strong structure. But doing maths and making honey aren’t the only things these cool critters do so well. Problem is, they’re disappearing.

Farmers and scientists alike are conducting research to figure out why bee populations are declining – as these helpful little pollinators are responsible for about one third of the world’s food production!

Analysing data on a global scale and looking at different variables is helping us to keep the world’s bee population stable and future-proof food production. And maths is key to solving this global issue.

The maths: data collection and analysis
The careers: climate scientist, agriculturalist, data analyst, software engineer

RELATED: The best high school maths lessons by Eddie Woo

2. Using geometry to build our world

Ever looked at the Sydney Harbour Bridge and thought about how many pieces of curved steel are used in the arch, how deep the pylons must be to keep the bridge anchored, or how much paint is required each year?

While you may not think about the engineers (in this case structural or civil) using high school geometry, algebra and material density to help build bridges (and roads and skyscrapers and so many other features of our urban environments), the reality is that without this foundation you just can’t build feats like these.

The built environment, from our tiny homes to our largest dams, relies on both fundamental and more complex mathematics, and is a bit like a game of Tetris. Town planners, architects and engineers move ‘pieces’ around to make sure all the parts fit to make our cities safe, smart and future-proof.

The maths: geometry, algebra, material density

3. Using cryptography to send secrets

Ever written a note to your friend in class and hoped the teacher didn’t read it? Well maths could solve your problem! Enter the world of cryptography and number theory (the study

of the integers and integer-valued functions). Encryption is what keeps your personal data secure online. It scrambles data intel like your credit card details and home address to ensure hackers can’t misuse this information.

Cryptography relies on keys to help find the pattern to allow you to ‘translate’ the data. See if you can discover the key to decipher the following message: pdwkv lv wkh frrohvw! (answer at the bottom of this story!)

In this age of Big Data, technology and quantum computers, the codes for secure cryptography will need to become more sophisticated, which means plenty of career ops for people with a head for numbers, linguistics and seeing trends and patterns.

The maths: number theory, algebra, logs and matrices, probability
The careers: coder, hacker, intelligence officer

RELATED: Three reasons you should stick with high school maths, according to experts

4. From cannonballs to satellites and solar panels!

Galileo used square numbers to figure out the precise motion of a cannonball (called a parabola), which allowed soldiers to calculate its path and hit targets out of sight. Centuries later, the same maths enabled NASA to design a satellite and launch it into orbit.

The maths of parabolic analysis is used in many applications, from building satellites and keeping our global communications and monitoring systems functioning to building more efficient solar panels – for everything from your roof to solar farms!

Parabolic solar panels can concentrate the Sun’s light rays, collecting and converting more of it into electricity to power our lifestyles.

As our exploration of space and energy needs increase, so will the demand for critical and creative thinkers. Peeps who can apply maths concepts, see patterns and predict problems before they occur, can also design the solutions to make our world a better place.

The maths: quadratics, algebra, surface area, angles, ratios
The careers: renewable energy engineer, electrician, astrophysicist, industrial designer, materials engineer

This article originally appeared in Careers with STEM: Maths 2022.

Answer (using Caesar Cipher): “maths is the coolest”

Angela Crompton

Author: Angela Crompton

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