21 December 2007

"Mystery" of traffic jams solved - really?

I couldn't give a monkey's how traffic jams happen, just so long as they don't happen to me. But it's a subject that's obviously been playing on the minds of mathematicians from the universities of Bristol, Exeter and Budapest, because they've seen fit to develop a model of it.

Is it just me or does this strike you as the kind of thing mathematicians do for a laugh in their lunch hour? And, having seen Leila Sattary's report on the pseudoscience spouted about wrapping Christmas presents, I'd like to contest the fact that mathematicians do any real work at all.

If you're interested in the traffic jam study, the upshot of it is that an overreaction by an individual driver, i.e. braking too sharply, can cause 'backwards travelling waves' in the traffic. Gosh, that one must have taken them all lunch hour. Where are all the quadratic equations and common denominators in this, eh?

Image: Emin Ozkan