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Always carry an emergency Maths Careers postcard

On the way home from my 6 monthly review of the University Liaison Project (sorry? Oh, really well, thanks for asking) I was on the train listening to music through my headphones & tapping away on my laptop. At Leicester or Loughborough two lads got on and sat opposite me. A girl across the aisle had got on too and was talking to them in a defensive way about how much maths there was in her course: “yeah there’s quite a bit of physics and some maths too”. One of the lads remarked “Is there any solid state physics?” and they laughed. In my experience, peer pressure doesn’t work this way round!

After a while, one of them nudged the other and said “look, we’ve sat at the right table.” They were looking at the IMA sticker on the top of my laptop. I didn’t acknowledge that I’d heard – I had a report to work on. As we were pulling into the station I heard one of them say to the other, “I might contact them, you know, to ask what careers you can do with maths.” I quietly reached into my bag and pulled out my emergency Maths Careers postcard and slid it across the table to him. He laughed and said he would check out the website. Turns out he’s a physics undergrad interested in the mathematics side of things. He is looking at defence jobs at the moment. I told him I know a lot of mathematicians who work in this area, and that the Maths Careers website carries some good careers advice. He was still clutching the postcard when he left the station onto the streets of Nottingham, on the way to the outdoor skating rink in the market square.

Of course, this is the very opposite of the leverage I wrote about in Mathematics Today December.

Podcast: Episode 10 – Adrian Bowyer (part 2)

These are the show notes for episode 10 of the Travels in a Mathematical World Podcast. 10 is both a Triangular number and a Tetrahedral number. More about the number 10 from

Following on from last week, this week on the podcast is the second of two installments from Dr Adrian Bowyer, who talks through some of the areas his career has taken him into. You can find out more about Adrian from his homepage at the University of Bath, and Adrian has a Wikipedia page.

This week, Adrian talks about his work mimicking biological adaptions in engineering. He talks about his work on the self-replicating machine, RepRap and there is a wealth of information on that website.

While Adrian is speaking I am fascinated by a pile of objects made through a commerical rapid prototyping machine which are sitting on a table in Adrian’s office. These are pictured below along with a picture of a RepRap machine and Adrian.

I would very much recommend watching the video on YouTube of “Building RepRap 1.0 ‘Darwin'”, which shows in fast forward Adrian assembling a RepRap machine. This is at times both fascinating and hilarious, particularly the tea break in the middle and the guy who completely grasps the possibility for humour in the different frames of reference of the situation.

For the latest from the RepRap project, read the blog.

rapid prototyping objects
a RepRap machine
Adrian Bowyer and a RepRap machine

Maths careers = cool?

You might be interested to see this video from the DCSF Science and Maths Campaign. I am told this is being shown on TV and in cinemas this month.

This video from
Maths Careers advice:

Podcast: Episode 9 – Adrian Bowyer (part 1)

These are the show notes for episode 9 of the Travels in a Mathematical World Podcast. 9 is prime and excluding 1, for which the case is trivial, 9 is the smallest number which is equal to the sum of the digits of its square. More about the number 9 from

This week on the podcast is the first of two installments from Dr Adrian Bowyer, who talks through some of the areas his career has taken him into. You can find out more about Adrian from his homepage at the University of Bath, and Adrian has a Wikipedia page.

There is a reasonable introduction to stick/slip at Wikipedia. Adrian’s article in the Computer Journal (downloadble here but not free) proposed what became known as the Bowyer/Watson algorithm. Find out more about Geometric Modelling at Bath here. You can read an introduction to Boundary Representation here. Here is an applet which models Pólya’s Urn Experiment.

You can find out more about my work with the IMA by reading this blog and visiting

UPDATE 14/03/09: Obviously 9 is not prime. I’ve published a blog post highlighting my error: 9 is an experimental error.

Mathematics Today December: University Liaison Officer’s Report

The right lever to move the world

The new academic year has brought a mass of activity and potential opportunities. I am keen to spread the IMA message as widely as possible so thoughts turn to how my activities can be distributed to as many students as possible. So it is that I have begun several new initiatives.
Starting with the October issue, selected articles from Mathematics Today are distributed electronically to student groups with whom I have a contact or other student reps where no such group exists. These contacts will then redistribute the electronic Mathematics Today to students within their universities. This means that, perhaps as you read this, I will be reading through and picking a selection of articles from this copy of Mathematics Today that I think are of interest to students. Students will receive links to PDFs that are active for a limited period. I am also sending each student group a print copy of Mathematics Today for them to display at their events. The intention is that by receiving some of the content from Mathematics Today, students might begin to gain awareness of the IMA and the role it can play in their lives post-graduation. Certainly, we can hope that more students will be exposed to the IMA through this method than could be by my actions in person. And with the quality content in Mathematics Today we can be assured that the exposure will be meaningful as well as wide-reaching. If you would like students at your university to receive Mathematics Today please contact me at

A second activity I have begun is a podcast, Travels in a Mathematical World, which features mathematicians talking about their work and careers, as well as Maths History features from Noel-Ann Bradshaw of the University of Greenwich and Maths News roundups with Sarah Shepherd of iSquared Magazine. This has been running for a few weeks now and the response I have had so far has been positive with students I have spoken to keen to hear from ‘real life mathematicians’. At a Mathsoc event at the University of Greenwich I was approached by a student who said “I was listening to you this morning.” It took me a moment to realise what she meant! You can listen to episodes and download the podcast at Any promotion you can provide for this is most welcome.

Thirdly (and I won’t say “finally”!), my relationships with university mathematical societies continue to increase in number. Through a group I am calling Representatives of University Mathematical Societies (RUMS), I am able to keep in touch with students at a wide range of universities through a single contact at each. Universities that do not have such student groups often have a student representative on some staff-student liaison group and sometimes it is possible for this student to act as my point of contact, or simply another keen student. So RUMS membership now includes students from universities without mathematical societies. This group is a huge advantage to my interactions as the task of maintaining a current list of students would be impractical. And there is, I think, a clear advantage to the students themselves in already participating in the mathematical community. If you are in touch with a student group, or know your university doesn’t have one but can think of another student who may be able to help, please get in touch via

I have set up a new blog for the members of the RUMS group to post news from their activities and share ideas. As I travel I am made aware of the different groups who all have similar goals and are all running into the same issues and this blog is designed for groups to share this experience. Particularly, I meet new student groups and it is good to be able to point them to the blog for inspiration. In the Student Section this time I have collected a few snippets of news from the blog. The blog is available at

Activities Sept-Oct 2008

Last time I mentioned a questionnaire that I have distributed to universities through our network of IMA University Representatives and I am glad to say that responses have been coming in through this period. I have a 37% response rate with questionnaires returned from 27 universities.

During September I made several trips to Birmingham. First, I met with the IMA’s new liaison with the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS), Julie Hepburn from the Cardiff University Careers Service. We had a chat about what AGCAS and the IMA can do together. I’ve also visited the more maths grads project, who do some great work in mathematics enrichment at school level. We are exploring ways we can work together in areas we overlap, particularly on careers advice. Lastly, I attended the LMS Popular Lectures 2008 and grabbed 5 minutes with the Co-Chair of the Mathsoc at Birmingham and I am happy to report they are now successful University Liaison Grant applicants.

In October, I visited the University of Leicester and met with the enthusiastic bunch who are the committee for the student group there. Those who enjoy a bit of wordplay will enjoy the name: Student Union Maths Society (SUMS).

Next came my small part in following the New Unified Mathematics Society tour. I visited Newcastle, York, Leeds, Warwick and my home city of Nottingham with the Presidents of the IMA and LMS, David Abrahams and Brian Davies, respectively. It was really useful to go to universities I have not yet had the chance to visit and I have made some useful contacts there. I took the opportunity to catch up with the Mathsoc at Newcastle, who have recently made their second successful University Liaison Grant application and the more maths grads regional base in Leeds.

I visited the University of Greenwich for a talk organised by the MathSoc there on “Thinking Mathematically” by John Mason. Noel-Ann Bradshaw of the University of Greenwich is looking to organise a grouping of London Universities who can look to cross-promote events and I stopped on my way across London to meet the President of the Maths Society at Imperial College.

Finally I rounded off the month in Manchester, where I attended a mathematics specific careers event, “Calculating Careers”. I operated a stall at this with a mixture of careers advice, IMA materials and last but certainly not least a set of puzzles. This did lead to an afternoon of me calling out to passing students:”Fancy playing a game?” but it also led to all those students going home with a “Maths Matters” postcard from the Maths Careers website ( and a copy of the Mathematics Today article Careers for Mathematicians1 under their arms, and hopefully some raised awareness of the IMA. I was told afterwards that my stall had seen the most activity at the fair so there is something to be said for baiting mathematicians with intellectual curiosities!

You can find out more about the University Liaison initiative by visiting the IMA Student page or reading my blog, both via:


1. BRIAULT, S., 2008. Careers for Mathematicians. Mathematics Today, 44(3), pp. 117-118.

Podcast: Episode 8 – Maths news with Sarah Shepherd

These are the shownotes for episode 8 of the Travels in a Mathematical World Podcast. Excluding 1, for which the case is trivial, 8 is the smallest number which is equal to the sum of the digits of its cube. More facts about the number 8 from

This week is maths news week on the podcast, I visited Sarah Shepherd, a PhD student at the University of Nottingham and editor of iSquared Magazine and we talked through some maths stories that have been in the news. Links to all the articles we mentioned are below.

Professor Stephen Hawking is to retire from his position as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University after 30 years in October 2009. You can read this story, “Stephen Hawking to retire as Cambridge’s Professor of Mathematics” at the Telegraph.

There was a question in the Guardian from a mathematics graduate looking for careers advice. You can read the relevant “Dr Work” column at the Guardian.

In December, the mathematician and popularisor of mathematics, Marcus du Sautoy will take up Oxford University’s prestigious Simonyi Professorship for the Public Understanding of Science. Read “Popular face of maths to succeed godless Dawkins” at the Guardian.

Maths Inspiration got an outing on the BBC’s Breakfast programme. You can, at present, view the report on the BBC website. Also on the BBC this month mathematics got an outing on the Qi programme. You can read more about this, and about Russell, in an earlier blog posting. You can, of course, make a donation to Children in Need.

Bletchley Park has received a grant from English Heritage. Read “Bletchley Park saved for posterity” at the Guardian. You can make a donation to Bletchley Park.

The Further Maths Network and Rolls-Royce plc have announced a poster competition for undergraduate or PGCE mathematics students, individually or in groups. The poster should convey the essence of a mathematical topic that has been covered at university by the designer to school and college students studying AS or A level Mathematics. They will award a prize of £100 to each of 2 winning posters and the winning posters will be printed and sent to potentially over 2000 schools and colleges. The closing date is 31 March 2009 and more information can be found at the Further Maths Network website.

The Observor published an extract from “Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell, which explores the differences in the language of numerical constructs. Read “Why Asian children are better at maths” at the Observor.