Conferences on Mathematics in London

At the end of the Easter conference season I spent two days in London for conferences.

The first was the IMA’s flagship general mathematical interest conference, Mathematics 2009. At this I was very excited to hear Sir Roger Penrose speak. Read an outline of Sir Roger’s work at Plus. I was also pleased for the second time to hear David Spiegelhalter speak on public understanding of uncertainty (I also attended his keynote at Young Researchers in Mathematics 2009). I also heard the following speakers at the conference: Ben Heydecker on transport modelling, John McWhirter on his research, Makhan Singh and Zia Rahman on the more maths grads project‘s use of video, Helen Byrne on mathematical biology and Fred Piper on cryptography.

The second was the Women in Mathematics Day 2009. This event is designed for women who are active in mathematics to get together, including plenty of talks and posters by PhD students.

On my way home to Nottingham I stopped by the University of Leicester for an IMA East Midlands Branch talk on The Physics of Finance by Iain Clark.

Young Researchers in Mathematics 2009

Back in conference season, I attended the Young Researchers in Mathematics conference at Cambridge (AKA Beyond Part III). This was my first time in Cambridge and it was good to see the maths building, of which I have heard a lot during my travels. Unfortunately, when I got there it appeared someone had parked a spaceship on top of it (picture below).

Centre for Mathematical Sciences, Cambridge
This conference was the product of an exciting new initiative to bring together young mathematics researchers and was a vibrant inaugural conference. The organisers are to be congratulated. The Young Researchers in Mathematics is an ongoing initiative. From the website:

We exist to promote links between graduate mathematician communities at universities across the UK, and facilitate the organisation of conferences, workshops and social events for young mathematicians.

The conference was part-sponsored by the IMA and so I ran a stall at the event (pictured below) and spent a good amount of time mingling.

Stall at Young Researchers in Mathematics Conference 2009
Below you will find a link to the conference photo on the Young Researchers in Mathematics website. Click to enlarge. I am almost in the middle towards the back, in a brown jumper and just behind the guy in green who stands out.

Group photo from Young Researchers in Mathematics 2009

Podcast: Episode 28 – Maths news with Sarah Shepherd

These are the show notes for episode 28 of the Travels in a Mathematical World Podcast. 28 is the number of dominoes in a standard dominoes set. More about 28 from NumberADay.

This week on the podcast I met Sarah Shepherd, PhD student at the University of Nottingham and Editor of iSquared Magazine and we discussed some maths news. Links to all the articles we mentioned are below.

‘Maths’ to crack climate change,” an article on the BBC News website about the Numerical Algorithms and Intelligent Software (NAIS) team, a group of Scottish scientists attempting to tackle some of the numerical challenges presented by modern science.

Article in the Guardian, “Go figure … why mathematicians rule the internet,” on algorithms, covering supermarket loyalty cards, shelf stacking, special offers and stock control, traffic lights, the price of low cost flights, air traffic control, Amazon recommendations, Google search results, weather forecasts and radio station playlists.

Piece in the Oxford Mail highlighting the importance of mathematics in fire fighting. Read “Flaming good way to teach maths.”

Piece in the Guardian, “Newly hatched chicks pass maths test,” on basic mathematical skills in newly hatched chicks.

Scientists reveal how eating chocolate can help improve your maths,” a piece in the Telegraph which reports on a study on the effects of flavanols (found in cocoa) on mathematical ability.

Could quantum mathematics shake up Google?“, a piece from the New Scientist which discusses the use of random matrix theory to identify salient words in documents and its potential use in search engine results.

Maths teachers ‘taught to teach’” from the BBC News website reports on a booklet containing advice on teaching mathematics which are being sent to maths teachers in England and some reaction to the booklet.

The report of the suggestion of a government advisory committee that suggests national SATS tests should be phased out. Read “Testing of 11-year-olds should be phased out, advisers tell government” from the Guardian.

Puzzling behaviour: Maths professor finds the formula that will solve ANY Sudoku” from the Daily Mail reports on an article by James Crook, “A Pencil-and-Paper Algorithm for Solving Sudoku Puzzles.”

The story “Salmond stumped by a mother’s maths question” is an interesting one. Since we recorded, there has been an apology from the BBC journalist involved, Brian Davies, in a blog post “To infinity and beyond” where he offers “to one and all, 3.14159265 apologies”. The original story is gone from the Scotsman website at the time of writing these notes, replaced with the seemingly technical error, “The article has been unable to display.” At the time of writing, Google still has a cache of the original story “Salmond stumped by a mother’s maths question – Google Cache“. I have not been able to find any reference to it, or its deletion, on the Scotsman website, apart from in deleted user contributed comments (view Google cache version). Minitrue at work.

The 14th of March was Pi Day. You can read the text of the US Government Bill which officially recognises Pi Day on The Library of Congress THOMAS website by searching for Bill Number “H.RES.224” or for the text “Pi Day”.

The 24th March 2009 was Ada Lovelace Day, in recognition of women in technology. The BBC have a good roundup of what took place.

The International Centre for Mathematical Sciences (ICMS) in Edinburgh held a maths film festival – watching Hollywood films The Oxford Murders, 21 and N Is A Number, a documentary about Paul Erdös. This was reported in The Scotsman as “Lights, camera, action – maths and the movies adds up to a winning formula“.

I recommended Marcus du Sautoy’s column Sexy Maths in the Times, the latest I had seen was “Sexy maths: the Fibonacci sequence’s prime rate.”

I also recommended the work of David Spiegelhalter through the Understanding Uncertainty website and a piece in Plus, “Understanding uncertainty: 2845 ways of spinning risk.”

I mentioned the Independant guide on Maths at university in which Noel-Ann Bradshaw and I feature. I mentioned Neil Goldwasser, who featured on Episode 7 of the Travels in a Mathematical World podcast, is now featured on the Maths Careers website.

You can find out about IMA membership grades on the Membership section of the IMA website.

I also mentioned the error I made in episode 9 of the Travels in a Mathematical World podcast, in which I claim 9 is prime.

You can find out more about iSquared Magazine on the iSquared website.

You can find out more about my work with the IMA by following me on Twitter, reading this blog and visiting Join the Facebook page.

What’s pi got to do with it?

Last week at Meet the Mathematicians I saw a talk by Jon Keating , “Some thoughts on the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics” (an essay by Wigner). One element that I have taken away from this was when Jon was talking about the unexpected connections between mathematical concepts, illustrated using the normal distribution (an example from the original essay). The bell shaped curve depends on the mean and the variance, which is perfectly reasonable. The curve depends as well on pi. So Jon posed the question: If you take a large group of people, measure their heights (or other body parts, or lots of other types of data) and arrange them on a histogram, what has that to do with the ratio between the circumference and diameter of a circle?

Podcast: Episode 27 – Oliver Jensen, British Applied Mathematics Colloquium 2009

These are the show notes for episode 27 of the Travels in a Mathematical World podcast. 27 is the first composite number not divisible by any of its digits. More about 27 from Number Gossip.

In April was the British Applied Mathematics Colloquium (BAMC) 2009, the premier annual national meeting of applied mathematics in the UK, at the School of Mathematical Sciences, University of Nottingham. Immediately following this, I sat down with Professor Oliver Jensen, Co-Chair of the BAMC for a retrospective on the conference and what work is current in applied mathematics.

Oliver spoke about the Meet the Mathematicians outreach day connected to the conference and the following talks. All the talks at Meet the Mathematicians were videoed and will appear in time on the website at

Oliver also spoke briefly about each of the plenary lectures at the BAMC. Click on the speakers name to find out more about their work.

Oliver also mentioned the mini-symposia:

  1. Quantum Chaos & Disordered Systems
  2. Scientific Computation
  3. Cells and Networks
  4. Stochastic Systems and Uncertainty
  5. Approaches to Nanofluidics
  6. Nonlinear Optics and Optical Coherent Structures.
  7. Delay and Difference Equations
  8. Regenerative Medicine
  9. Mathematics Education
  10. Solid Mechanics

If you can, please help to promote the podcast. You can help promote the podcast by pointing people to There is a poster/flyer to advertise the podcast: poster in A4 format; poster in A5 format.

You can find out more about my work with the IMA by following me on Twitter, reading this blog and visiting Join the Facebook page.

British Applied Mathematics Colloquium 2009

I attended the 2009 British Applied Mathematics Colloquium (BAMC) at the School of Mathematical Sciences, University of Nottingham last week.

On day 1, I attended as a delegate from Nottingham interested in the Mathematics Education mini-symposium. On days 2 and 3, I attended as an exhibitor from the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications and assisted with running the IMA stall. Needless to say, some people know me as an IMA chap and others as an e-learning chap. This made for a very confusing week. I don’t mind working for two employers but when one moves in with the other it all gets a little messy!

Overall I had a very good time at the conference. I took an approach of forced complete lack of self-consciousness, wandering up to people with: “Hello, I’m Peter, I work for the IMA” to see where it led me. I serendipitously did this with several people with whom I have been speaking by email or on Facebook or Twitter. In fact, at one particular wine reception I had a run of people who have invited me to give talks or to other events but who I had not met. I spoke to a lot of PhD students and postdocs and hopefully raised some awareness of the IMA. I spoke to a few younger members and encouraged them to get involved and make the most of their membership. I spoke to a lot of more established members who used the materials on the stall on upcoming conferences, etc. to become more informed about the activities of the Institute. I even gave away a couple of IMA application forms. And, of course, I answered a lot of questions about the ‘merger’ (in case you’re wondering the answers are always either: 1. there is a vote taking place currently; 2. no, no one knows the outcome yet).