Podcast: Episode 19 – Maths news with Sarah Shepherd

These are the show notes for episode 19 of the Travels in a Mathematical World Podcast. 19 is the smallest number n such that n to the power n is pandigital (contains all 10 digits). More about the number 19 from Number Gossip.

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.

Emperor penguins face extinction due to climate change, a new study and mathematicial model suggests. Read “Emperor penguins face extinction” on the BBC News website.

Graham Parker has solved his rubix cube after 26 year attempting to do so. Read “Rubik’s Cube finally solved after 26 years by avid fan” from the Telegraph.

Professor David Williams of Swansea University has solved a mathematical problem following brain surgery, though his piano playing ability is not what it once was. Read “Swansea professor’s maths victory” from the Weston Mail at WalesOnline.

Carol Vorderman is to head a new maths task force for the Conservative Party. You can read about this in many places, including “Vorderman heads maths task force” from the BBC, “Carol + David = new Tory strategy to make maths fun” from Guardian and “If Vorderman is the answer, Cameron’s asking the wrong question” in the Guardian. There is an interview with Carol which touches on this and other issues, “Carol Vorderman on money, celebrity and being the new maths czar” in the Times. Carol would like pupils and parents to email her at carol@mathstaskforce.com with their questions, complaints and observations about how they are taught maths.

There is an interview with Marcus du Sautoy in the Independant, “Credo: Marcus du Sautoy”.

There is a piece about Charles Darwin’s contribution to the development of statistics “Darwin: The Reluctant Mathematician” in Science News.

There is a column in the Independent which touches on a lot of current issues in mathematics. Read “Boyd Tonkin: The answer is 23: new shots at maths” in the Independent.

Remember the snow at the start of February? Read “Why do snowflakes have six arms?” in the Times.

At the time of recording, the current edition of Marcus du Sautoy’s column in the Times is “Sexy maths: Why Palladio’s proportions are pleasing on the eye and the ears”.

We had a ramble about Twitter. I have decided to try Twitter so you can follow me at http://twitter.com/peterrowlett. Plus magazine are also using Twitter via http://twitter.com/plusmathsorg. You can read Plus magazine at plus.maths.org.

If you are a student who is not receiving an email with links to PDF articles from the IMA members publication Mathematics Today, please email me. This facility is free for students only.

iSquared Magazine is available through www.isquaredmagazine.co.uk.

You can find out more about my work with the IMA by reading this blog and visiting www.ima.org.uk/student.

Goodbye, Scotland

I have now concluded my time in Edinburgh and am heading home on the train. I have really enjoyed my week in Scotland. I have visited some wonderful places and met some lovely people. I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to explore the places I visited but then this isn’t a holiday! As well as yesterday morning seeking the Clerk Maxwell statue, I spent a couple of hours before my train this morning in a beautiful, sunny Edinburgh. Below are a couple of the many pictures I have taken. I particularly think the last one is a nice rendition of Edinburgh in sping. I would like to have spent more time (a fortnight perhaps?!) exploring but I had to get on a train as it is a long journey home at the end of a very busy week.

View over North BridgeView from North BridgeScott Memorial

James Clerk Maxwell statue in Edinburgh

I started the day with a spare hour in Edinburgh during which I had a pleasant walk around old Edinburgh and sought out the statue of James Clerk Maxwell which was erected earlier in the year and to which the IMA made a contribution. There are some pictures of the statue below.

James Clerk Maxwell statue 2James Clerk Maxwell statue 1James Clerk Maxwell statue 3
If you click on the picture of the plaque below you will see a larger version and may be able to make out the names of the donors, including the IMA at the bottom right.James Clerk Maxwell statue plaqueAfter seeing the statue, the good people of the Royal Society of Edinburgh showed me into the Maxwell room which included a hologram of the statue and a case of artifacts (pictures below). I was particularly taken by the manuscript for an article hand written by Maxwell which is exhibited along with the hand written referees comments.

Maxwell's papers

Crisis and Careers in Edinburgh

I have had a somewhat fraught day in Edinburgh. I gave a careers talk hosted by Dugald Duncan at Heriot-Watt University in the late morning. This was well attended and went perfectly well. I even made contact with a student who is in the process of forming a Mathsoc at that university and encouraged him to consider a University Liaison Grant application. There is a picture of a statue of James Watt at Heriot-Watt below.

James Watt statue
Next I went to the University of Edinburgh for the afternoon. First I had lunch with Liam O’Carroll who organised the afternoon then we were joined by a group of postgraduate students and staff for tea and biscuits in a “Meet Peter Rowlett” session. Following this I was due to give a talk and on arrival at the room I realised I had left my laptop at Heriot-Watt. Crisis! I phoned Heriot-Watt and Pat Hampton offered to go to the room to look for it. I had to give my talk on a laptop provided by a member of the audience, David Mitchell. At the end of the talk I received word from the School Office that my laptop had been found safely at Heriot-Watt and I should phone to arrange collection of it but no time for that, I was on to my next appointment! I spoke briefly at the start of the staff meeting about my work with the IMA, which was a fairly intimidating affair, particularly being, as I was, slightly flustered by events so far. Then I was able to phone Heriot-Watt and arrange for them to send my laptop over in a taxi. David took me to a cash machine and waited with me for the taxi but we were still waiting as the time crept up to the second showing of my careers talk. I had to go and give the talk so David offered to wait for the taxi for me and collect my laptop. I went and gave my talk again and again it went well. Attendance at both talks was good, particularly given that it was Friday afternoon so I was pleased with this. After the talk I met up with David and my laptop is fine. I recorded podcast episodes with David and Mike Maher and then retired to the pub with David and some of his fellow PhD students for a relaxing drink at the end of a very stressful afternoon.

I am extremely grateful to both Pat Hampton and David Mitchell for their help with my laptop crisis. Without their involvement I could not have come to a happy solution. I think the talks in Edinburgh went well and were well attended despite my self-imposed crisis.


Thursday was Glasgow day in my Scottish tour. I started the day by travelling to Glasgow. The picture below is of George Square which is very impressive but somewhat affected by the rain. I have received mixed opinions of the rain in Glasgow with some people telling me it rains at least every other day and others telling me it is mostly sunny. On my day there it was grey and rainy.

George Square
The picture below is of the main gate at the University of Glasgow, which is not where I gave my talk. In the maths building I passed a pleasant hour with Professor David Fearn discussing my work for the IMA and the proposed merger with the LMS. Professor Nick Hill took me to lunch and for a tour of campus including the houses where once the 12 university professors lived, including at one time Lord Kelvin, and the River Kelvin from which his title was derived. After this, Professor Peter Kropholler hosted me for my careers talk to what turned out to be a surprisingly small group of students. The talk went well and felt nicely intimate but it was a shame not to have seem more students.

University of Glasgow main gate
Next I travelled to the University of Strathclyde. My talk was in the Livingstone Tower and there is a picture of a statue of David Livingstone below. I met with Professor Iain Stewart who organised my talk which I gave to a reasonably large crowd and it seemed to go well.

David Livingstone statue
After my talk in the staff room at Strathclyde I took the following snap. I was pleased to see iSquared among the available publications. In the course of my careers talk I always ask students if they read iSquared and Plus magazines. Not many do, actually, so perhaps these need greater promotion. I think both give a good idea of the range of career options and areas of work open to maths graduates that they are not necessarily aware of otherwise.

iSquared in staff room

Careers in the home of golf

From Aberdeen I moved on to St. Andrews. On the train I was in awe of the scenery which was quite beautiful but my only opportunity to stop and take pictures was when I was at Leuchars station waiting for the bus, which was unusually unremarkable. On the approach to St. Andrews we passed a sign “Welcome to St. Andrews – The home of golf” but my only view of the famous course was when it was too dark to see it.

Once in St. Andrews it was starting to lose the light so I took a couple of pictures from the bus station (below) before I had dinner with the Chaosoc committee.

St. Andrews 1St. Andrews 2
After dinner we moved on to one of the St. Andrews university buildings where I gave my careers talk. This was well received by a fairly large turn out. A lady from the university careers service was keen to reiterate most of the content of the talks to the students at the end of the talk and was able to remind the students how the careers service can help them. It is good to have a local contact speak for a couple of minutes at the end of my talk to reinforce how the students can access careers advice locally. After the talk I was given a tour of the town by the Chaosoc President Alistair Wallis. Then the committee and I retired to the pub before I was given a lift back to the railway station.


On Wednesday I went to Aberdeen and had lunch with Garry Brindley, Chair of the IMA Scottish Branch in the Aberdeen Maritime Museum, where I saw a scale model of an oil rig.

I then travelled to the University of Aberdeen where I gave my careers talk to the Maths Club. This was well received in a nice, informal setting by a lively bunch of students. In attendance was Vivien Ellins from TechFest-SetPoint and she was able to say something to the students about their work bringing graduates to present maths masterclasses in schools. Pictured below are a couple of pictures I took wandering around campus; the second is the Meston Building where I gave my talk.

Aberdeen UniversityMeston Building, Aberdeen University
Aberdeen is lovely and the weather was great and it is a shame I was only able to stay for about 3 hours in all. In between being a bit lost and other activities I remembered to take some pictures (below) of and from Union Street.