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Mathematicians on TV at Christmas, 2021

A surprising number of mathematicians (including some friends of the Aperiodical) have been on UK telly this Christmas!

Nira Chamberlain on University Challenge

Winner of the Big Internet Math-Off 2018, Nira Chamberlain, captained the Portsmouth University team in an episode of the University Challenge Christmas special (on iPlayer, and the episode on YouTube). We’re pleased to see that since his Math-off victory, Nira continues to introduce himself wherever he goes as ‘The World’s Most Interesting Mathematician’.

Paul and Katie on Only Connect again

Aperiodical editor Katie Steckles and site regular Paul Taylor, accompanied by fellow mathematician Ali Lloyd, appeared in the Only Connect Champion of Champions special as part of their team the Puzzle Hunters. Having won series 16 this year, they were invited back to take on the winners of series 15, the 007s. Watch out for at least one maths question! The episode is on iPlayer, and on YouTube.

Ri Christmas Lectures

This year’s lectures were on the science behind virology and the pandemic, and hosted by Professor Jonathan Van-Tam. As part of the second episode, mathematician Professor Julia Gog joined to explain how mathematical modelling can be used to study the spread of viruses, around 38 minutes in. (Slightly worryingly, JVT claims he isn’t any good at maths, so he had to get someone in to help explain it).

All three episodes are available on iPlayer, and will be added to the Ri YouTube channel once they come off there (around the beginning of Feb).

Katie shows you how to make a kumihimo braid

The Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering and Alom Shaha have organised a Month of Making – each day, a different person shows how to make a nice handmade Christmas gift.

Today it’s our own Katie’s turn. Her gift is a simplified version of a kumihimo, a Japanese form of braid.

There’s a little bit more information on the QE Prize site.

Aperiodical News Roundup – July 2021

Here’s a round-up of the latest mathematical news from the month of July 2021.


The Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, SIAM, has announced the winners of its 2021 prizes. Winners include: student paper prizes to Yingjie Be, Michelle Feng and Yuanzhao Zhang; the George Pólya Prize for Mathematical Exposition to Nick Higham; and the John von Neumann prize to Chi-Wang Shu.

The Institute of Mathematics and its Applications, the IMA, has also announced some prize winners.

And since we’re talking about mathematicians winning awards, mathematician Anna Kiesenhofer has been awarded a gold medal in the women’s cycling road race at the Tokyo Olympics. For more information, read her 2016 paper Noncommutative integrable systems on b-symplectic manifolds (actually, it may not mention the Olympics at all, sorry).


Controlled study shows link between musical and mathematical ability. The paper is published in the Journal of Research in Music Education. (via MAA)

Laurent Fargues and Fields Medalist Peter Scholze have created “a long-desired bridge between the arithmetic and geometric sides of the Langlands program”, warranting a writeup in the always-excellent Quanta Magazine. (Via @KSHartnett)


If one science communication video contest run by a famous YouTuber this year wasn’t enough, Grant Sanderson (aka 3blue1brown) is running a Summer of Math Exposition. Submit an “explainer of math” to be in with a chance of a $1,000 prize. Imagine the Big Internet Math-Off, but with less voting and an actual prize. Grant announced the competition with a video titled “Why aren’t you making math videos?”:

Because we’re tired, Grant. We’re so tired.

The IMA Black Heroes of Mathematics 2021 conference will take place on the 5th and 6th of October. The vision of the conference is “To celebrate the inspirational contributions of Black role models to the field of Mathematics and Mathematics Education”. The event will include technical talks by internationally renowned Black speakers, incorporating details of their career paths and experience.

Other news

The Protect Pure Maths Campaign, funded by private donations and run by a PR firm in collaboration with the London Mathematical Society, aims to promote and protect pure mathematics research. The family of Alan Turing have added their support to the campaign, to protect what is described in this article in the Guardian as ‘blue skies maths’.

The IMA has announced they’re forming an alliance to create new professional standards for data science.

“The Alliance for Data Science Professionals is defining the standards needed to ensure an ethical and well-governed approach so the public, organisations and governments can have confidence in how their data is used.”

The alliance consists of the Royal Statistical Society (RSS), BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, the Operational Research Society, the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications, The Alan Turing Institute and the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), supported by the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society.

Robert Moses, founder of math literacy promotion charity The Algebra Project, has died. The announcement on the project website includes a moving tribute:

“His transition to that higher level only inspires us all to love, struggle and live with and for our people as he did, as we continue to work to realize Bob’s vision of “raising the floor of mathematics literacy” for all young people in the United States of America.”

Brands are at it again with their weird unnecessary anti-maths schtick: take this recent effort from Specsavers in which they state algebra is hard (which it can be sometimes), but also imply it’s ‘silly’, which is pretty short-sighted of them (LOL). Also this month, IMA President and World’s Most Interesting Mathematician Nira Chamberlain has been hassling sofa chain DFS about their TV commercial in which a boy shouts ‘I HATE MATHS’ repeatedly – which may actually have resulted in a change to the broadcast version (and good work if so!). It turns out that calling out this kind of thing sometimes gets results.

And finally, it’s been anounced that the theme for the International Day of Mathematics 2022 will be “Mathematics Unites” (via Nalini Joshi).

A lullaby sequence

A baby in a pram rolling over a sequence of numbers

My son was born last September. While he doesn’t hate sleep as much as his sister did, he still needs a bit of help to drop off.

I’m not at all musically inclined, and I seem unable to remember more than a couple of lines from wordy songs (my version of “Papa’s gonna buy you a mockingbird” rapidly veers into nonsense as I try to think of a rhyme for the next line), so when the girl was little I hit upon the strategy of singing counting songs to lull her off to sleep. a collection of ambiguities, inconsistencies and unpleasant conventions in notation

I’m now the owner of, thanks to my past self’s successful campaign of Twitter peer pressure against my more recent self.

My aim is to collect examples of conventions in mathematical notation that lead to ambiguities, inconsistencies, or just make you feel yucky. This is largely a result of me wishing I had something to point to whenever I see $\sin^2$ or one of those viral “puzzles” relying on BODMAS.

I’ve set it up as a wiki, so you can edit it too. So far, it’s got a few dozen pages on some of the things that have troubled me over the years, along with some contributions from some of my maths pals, such as “There is no function application symbol”, “Parentheses are overused”, and “Juxtaposition means combine in the obvious way”.

My aim is to describe conventions, without prescribing a correct notation. Whenever I tweet a question about a notational convention, my aim is to find out the range of different opinions that people hold about it. I often get replies arguing authoritatively for a particular correct answer, usually followed up by an equally certain reply from someone else arguing for the opposite. Like all language, mathematical notation is just something we make up to help express our ideas, and opinions, abuses of notation, lapses in memory and convenience all work against consistency and clarity.

I’d like the site to collect all these difficult aspects of notation, so that they don’t trip up someone who thought they might have an easy day doing maths.

So, have a look, and if you can help to build it out, I’d be very happy!

Aperiodical News Roundup – May 2021

Here’s a round-up of mathematical news from the month of May.

The film Words of Women in Mathematics in the Time of Corona showcases the words of 86 women of mathematics from 37 countries, speaking in 25 languages, on their experience during the pandemic. The project website says:

This pandemic has indeed made women, and in particular women in mathematics, more invisible than ever and we hope that this project will contribute to letting them be heard and seen.

(via Tony Mann)

Mathematician, IMA president and one-time World’s Most Interesting Mathematician Nira Chamberlain appeared on Jim Al-Khalili’s excellent radio show The Life Scientific, and talked about how mathematics can solve real-world problems.

The adventures of Mathina. An illustration showing two children in a rural landscape, with a castle in the distance. Two buttons, labelled "Start Exploring!" and "Introduction"

Mathina is an interactive story book, “based on story-driven experiences, in which children and young learners encounter fictional characters that find themselves in mathematical adventures”. It looks cool! (via Martin Skrodzki)

I is a Strange Loop is a theatrical play, written and performed by mathematician Marcus du Sautoy and mathematician/actor Victoria Gould (formerly Polly off Eastenders). A performance was streamed live on 25th May, and available to watch back on the Oxford Uni maths YouTube channel. The script of the play is also available to buy in book form.

Jean-Michel Bismut and Jeff Cheeger

The winners of the Shaw Prize, “an international award to honour individuals who have recently achieved distinguished and significant advances in their respective fields”, have been announced for 2021, including the Shaw Prize in Mathematical Sciences. This is awarded in equal shares to Prof Jean-Michel Bismut and Prof Jeff Cheeger (pictured right, floating in an abstract mathematical universe), “for their remarkable insights that have transformed, and continue to transform, modern geometry”.

And finally, Turkish mathematician Tuna Altinel has his passport back after two years of fighting the Turkish courts. Altinel was detained by Turkish authorities and his passport confiscated on the grounds of “membership in a terrorist organisation”, due to his attempts to promote peace and support human rights as part of the group Academics for Peace.

More information in this piece from Inside Higher Ed

See also: The case of Azat Miftakhov.

(via Jordan Ellenberg on Twitter)