Math Homework of the Week

Jason Ditz, June 06, 2011

When I was in high school physics, I had a problem of calculating how much the temperature of water raises by falling from the top of Niagara Falls to the bottom. My first answer was over 100 degrees C, meaning the water would boil. I knew this was obviously wrong, though I joked that it might explain the mist at the bottom – it was actually steam. Within a few minutes I figured out the problem – I had used faulty assumptions and as a consequence, the wrong formula.

No one outside the class heard about that mistake, and I certainly wasn’t making recommendations based on that answer. The same cannot be said of RAND Corporation’s Gregory S. Jones, who issued a report warning that short of a military occupation Iran will have a nuclear weapon in *pause for dramatic effect* eight weeks.

As with me in 11th grade, Mr. Jones’ math is essentially right. It is his assumptions, and by consequence the formulae used, that are faulty. He is assuming Iran’s scientists’ ability to enrich uranium to any level it wishes and using math based on that, and the apparent belief that Iran’s centrifuges, far from being cobbled together first generation civilian enrichment technology, are infallible masterpieces built by some omniscient super-race from a Doctor Who-style future.

But instead of just making light of the report’s assumptions, I thought I’d offer an alternative story problem that is at the very least grounded in reality:

Mahmoud has produced 0 g of weapons-grade uranium in the last month, and Ali has produced 0 g of weapons-grade uranium in the last 22 years. At this rate, how long will it take Mahmoud and Ali to produce 20 kg of weapons-grade uranium.




2 Responses to “Math Homework of the Week”

  1. He's a biologist, apparently and hence he is fully capable of producing a valid analysis of the complex technical process of nuclear fuel processing.

  2. AND ONLY PHYSICISTS ARE CAPABLE OF UNDERSTANDING THINGS NUCLEAR/ATOMIC???