Thinking Mathematically in Greenwich

Last week I attended an event of the University of Greenwich Mathsoc, “Thinking Mathematically and Learning Mathematics Mathematically” by John Mason. This was very enjoyable, with some interesting problems to highlight aspects of the way people think about mathematics. Nice to exercise my mathematical muscle every now and then.

I took the opportunity when crossing London to meet the President of the Imperial College Mathsoc briefly. At Greenwich I was able to meet the President of the MathSoc there and some his committee, and to pick up a copy of the new issue of their newsletter, The Prime Times. After the talk we retired to a pub on the Greenwich shore of the Thames with a big window looking over the river to Canary Wharf. I got into a conversation about whether mathematicians are being used as scapegoats in the credit crunch with a maths & economics student.

Podcast: Episode 4 – Maths news with Sarah Shepherd

Episode 4. On any plane separated into regions, the regions may be coloured in such a way that no two adjacent regions receive the same colour using no more than four colours. Read a history of the four colour theorem at the MacTutor archive or get more information on the theorem at Wikipedia.

On the podcast this week I sat down with 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.

A new prime number has been discovered. Read “Huge new prime number discovered” on the BBC, or “Why 2 to the power of 43,112,609 – 1 = $100,000 for prime number hunters” from the Guardian. Find out more about the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (GIMPS), distributed computing software which uses volunteers’ PCs to search for prime numbers. Finally, the reward for discovering the new prime number is offered by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The stories about career changers into teaching and the golden hello are “Teaching maths adds up to a great career” from the Birmingham Mail and “Wanted: Maths teacher. £3,000 reward” from the Guardian.

The Ofsted report on maths teaching in England is “Too much maths ‘taught to test'” from the BBC and “Teaching style turns children off maths say inspectors” in the Times.

The reports on Maths Week in the Irish Times are “Magic, mosaics and Pythagoras promote maths for the masses” and “Author of maths books is a real stand-up guy”. You can find out more at the Maths Week website.

A review of the play “A Disappearing Number” is available on the Guardian website.

I mentioned Marcus du Sautoy’s The Story of Maths, for which the BBC4 Story of Maths page and Open University Story of Maths website have more information. The article on teaching maths in historical context by Marcus is “If maths is boring, what is the answer?” from the Telegraph.

Finally, I said there is good reading in Plus Magazine and iSquared Magazine.

Thanks to Sarah Shepherd of iSquared Magazine for joining me for this episode.

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

New Unified Mathematical Society

Over the past two weeks I have hectically followed the Presidents of the IMA and the LMS on a tour of several universities connected to the proposal for the formation of a new mathematical society. I should say my involvement has been nothing compared to the Presidents, who have visits more universities than I, have three more weeks to go and have to actually lead discussions at these universities where I don’t. It is a staggering undertaking for them.

My first trip was last week when I visited the univerisites of Newcastle, York and Leeds. This is a lovely part of the world and the approach to Newcastle by train was stunning despite heavy rain. Below are pictures from Newcastle by night, the mathematics department at Leeds and the Presidents answering questions in York.

Gateshead Millennium Bridge
University of York Department of Mathematics
Presidents answering questions
This week I visited the University of Warwick (pictured below) and attended a seminar by David Abrahams, the President of the IMA, followed by the proposal talk and discussion. Then yesterday I attended my local meeting at the University of Nottingham.

Warwick Mathematical Institute
It is interesting to meet so many members of both organisations and to see some parts of the country which I haven’t previously been to. I have used the opportunity to meet with or get contact details for various university mathematical societies and with more maths grads in Leeds. You can find out more about the proposal at the New Unified Mathematical Society website, as well as some of the questions that have come up on the tour as frequently asked questions.

Podcast: Episode 3 – Dr. Joanna Hartley, Public Transport Modelling

These are the show notes for episode 3 of the Travels in a Mathematical World podcast. 3 is prime and the only number which is equal to the sum of all the natural numbers less than it. More facts about number 3 from

I was returning home from a trip to Birmingham, when a screen on a Nottingham bus presented me with the following information: Nottingham City Transport runs 320 buses on 67 routes, making 35,602 trips, totalling 236,000 miles every week. As you might imagine, this is a fairly complicated network to model.

In this episode of the podcast, Dr. Joanna Hartley of Nottingham Trent University talks about her career from leaving university and the work she has done with Nottingham City Transport on public transport modelling. If you are interest in shortest path problems, a good overview is available on wikipedia. If you are interested in modelling public transport data, there is an article in plus magazine on Travel-time maps.

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

Somewhere between 78 and 120 people are listening (possibly)

I am delighted to report that the first episode of the Travels in a Mathematical World podcast was released a week ago and has been downloaded 120 times by 78 unique IP addresses in the first week (one of which was me). Turning web hit logs into number of real people is a black art – two people on the same modem might register as the same IP address, while one person at work and home will register as two. One person might download it and pass it around, which won’t register at the server. Web crawlers count at a visitor even though nobody’s watching. I noticed if you share the mp3 on Facebook, Facebook seems to cache it so you only get one hit no matter how many people play it. And the problems don’t stop there. So the real number is likely to be somewhere between 78 and 120, or, frankly, any other number whatsoever. Still the numbers suggest an encouraging start for my little endeavour. Yey!

Podcast: Episode 2 – Noel-Ann Bradshaw, Newton and Leibniz

These are the show notes for episode 2 of the Travels in a Mathematical World podcast. 2 is prime, the only even prime number. More facts about number 2 from

In the first of our Maths History series, Noel-Ann Bradshaw of the University of Greenwich and also Meetings Co-ordinator of the British Society for the History of Mathematics talks through a little of the history around Isaac Newton and Gottfried von Leibniz. If you’re interested in this topic, you might try reading Wikipedia on the Leibniz and Newton calculus controversy and there is much more on Newton at the Newton Project.

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

The picture below is of an Isaac Newton sundial I stumbled upon at the University of Leicester earlier in the week.

Isaac Newton sundial

Enigmatic SUMS in Leicester

Yesterday I spent an afternoon in Leicester. I visited the University of Leicester and met with the Student Union Maths Society (SUMS) group in the new David Wilson Library. They are an enthusiastic bunch and we had a good meeting discussing their plans for the group and how the IMA can help.

Leicester Library
I then walked a pleasant walk along New Walk between the University of Leicester and De Montfort University. It was a very wet day but there were plenty of people out and walking; the whole walk had a really nice atmosphere.

New Walk
At De Montfort, I attended the IMA East Midlands Branch talk on “Enigma, Bletchley Park & The Battle of the Atlantic” by Dr Mark Baldwin. This was apparently the 251st time Dr Baldwin had given this talk but he was enthusiastic and entertaining nonetheless. I was hoping to share a picture of his Enigma machine, but the crowd having a go with it was too deep! You can find out more about Enigma and see pictures at Wikipedia, and worth a visit is Bletchley Park.

Queens Building, De Montfort