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What Can Mathematicians Do? A series of online talks about maths

Screenshot of the What Can Mathematicians Do? website

I’ve put together a series of online public maths presentations, to take place in the last couple of weeks of term before Christmas.

This came about after a few people on the Talking Maths in Public WhatsApp group complained that we can hardly ever take up requests for a speaker to deliver a fun maths talk due to our disabilities, usually because of the difficulty of travelling to and from an event. I quipped that we should set up a series of talks for non-commutative mathematicians, and then I was told that the department’s EDI committee had a load of money sitting unused in its budget. So I decided to use some of it!

Aperiodical News Roundup – October 2022


AI research company DeepMind said that their AlphaTensor system has discovered a new way to multiply matrices, citing this as the first such advance since the Strassen algorithm was proposed in 1969. AlphaTensor found thousands of algorithms for multiplying matrices of different sizes, but most were not better than the state of the art. Specifically, it found an algorithm for multiplying \(5 \times 5\) matrices in \(\mathbb{Z}_2\) in just 96 operations. There’s a paper in Nature describing how the algorithm was found.

It’s not all over for us humans just yet, though: the DeepMind announcement prompted two algebraists at Linz University, Jakob Moosbauer and Manuel Kauers, to see if they could do even better. After a few days of thought, they published The FBHHRBNRSSSHK-Algorithm for Multiplication in $\mathbb{Z}_2^{5\times5}$ is still not the end of the story on the arXiv, giving an algorithm which does the multiplication in only 95 steps.

Meanwhile, in other computers-helping-humans news, the Lean 3 library mathlib has made it to 100,000 theorems, none of which have been left as an exercise for the reader.


The IMA and LMS have joined forces to offer a new university access programme called Levelling Up: Maths, which aims to address the difficulties that young people of Black heritage face in STEM. A-level students can join the programme, and will be able to access teaching and mentoring in virtual tutorial groups with Black heritage undergraduates, as well as events with Black guest speakers. The programme is also supported by the RAEng, BCS, IOP RSC, MEI and STEM Learning, as well as the Association for Black & Minority Ethnic Engineers (AFBE-UK) and Black British Professionals in STEM (BBSTEM).

What Can Mathematicians Do? is a series of free online public maths presentations organised by Newcastle University’s School of Mathematics, Statistics and Physics, covering a wide range of topics such as how colours mix, how to make a mint on the stock market, and how to pick your next Netflix binge. Aimed at students in school years 10 to 13, the talks are all given by disabled presenters: to show that anyone can be a mathematician, and mathematicians can do anything.

And finally: last weekend, a group of maths communicators (including several Aperiodical editors and regulars) put together a live online 24-hour Mathematical Game Show, featuring mathematical games, games with a mathematical twist, the maths of games and games about maths. The show has raised nearly £5000 for a collection of excellent charities, and the whole show is available to watch back in half-hour or 1-hour segments.

And finally

Nick Berry of the Data Genetics blog has died. The site ran for over a decade, and was described by Alex Bellos as ‘one of best examples of maths outreach on the web […] A brilliant cabinet of curiosities’. Nick passed away peacefully at home on Saturday October 8th after a long battle with cancer. (via Alex Bellos on Twitter)

Phil Goldstein, aka magician Max Maven, has died. Max Maven popularised the Gilbreath principle, which underlies a host of astonishing mathematical card tricks. (via Colm Mulcahy on Twitter)

Talking Maths in Public

In 2017, the University of Bath hosted the first Talking Maths in Public conference, a gathering for UK maths communicators. As part of the event, attendance bursaries were awarded to students interested in maths outreach, and the recipients of the bursaries wrote about their experiences. To celebrate the fact that a second TMiP conference will be happening this year (booking is open now, and we’re all going to be there!), we’re sharing their report of TMiP 2017. You can find out more about this year’s event (which also includes a bursary scheme) at

This post was jointly written by Imogen Morris, (University of Edinburgh), David Nkansah (University of Glasgow) and Olivia Sorto (University of Edinburgh).

First Clay Award for Dissemination of Mathematical Knowledge goes to Etienne Ghys


The Clay Mathematics Institute is best known for handing out a cool million in return for answering a hard question, much like Chris Tarrant.

Anyway, that’s not all they do! The Institute says it is “dedicated to increasing and disseminating mathematical knowledge”, and that now includes handing out an award for Dissemination of Mathematical Knowledge. The first recipient is research mathematician, Frenchman, and all-round top chap Etienne Ghys.

Not mentioned on The Aperiodical this month – August 2014

As usual in the summer, we’ve all been off doing our own things and consequently neglecting the news queue. Time to break out our tried-and-tested solution: a combo-post summarising everything we failed to cover in depth, before it goes completely out of date.

The Royal Society has Opinions about Education

The Royal Society has released a report outlining their idea of what science and maths education should look like in the future. It’s over a hundred pages long, but they’ve made a nice website to go along with it, with pages summarising their recommendations for things like “stability for curricula” and the teaching profession.

More information: The Royal Society’s vision for science and mathematics education

Cédric Villani is setting up a Maths Museum in Paris

The 2010 Fields Medal winner Cédric Villani announced at Copenhagen’s Euroscience Open Forum last month that there will be a museum dedicated to mathematics, based at the Institut Henri Poincaré, where he is the director. It’s expected to open in 2018.

Source: Cédric Villani annonce la création d’un musée des mathématiques à Paris, in Sciences et Avenir (in French)

Science Magazine establishes a Statistical Board of Reviewing Editors

In response to recent increases in flawed quantitative analysis and statistical bias in papers, Science has announced its intention to establish a Statistical Board of Reviewing Editors to provide better oversight on data interpretation. Recognising that a technical reviewer may not also be fluent in data analysis, the panel will consist of experts in stats and data analysis, and will be sent papers identified by their regular Board of Reviewing Editors (BoRE) as being in need of further scrutiny. Hooray for maths!

More information

Science Magazine raises its statistical bar. Will we? at Chris Blattman’s blog

Raising the Bar, at Science (free registration required to view, because of Science reasons)

Science joins push to screen statistics in papers in the Nature blog

ASA launches ‘This is Statistics’

this is statistics

The American Statistical Association, in a push to provide a new perspective on a subject often misunderstood and considered to be boring, has launched This is Statistics, a new website full of videos, applets and articles outlining how useful and interesting stats can be. It’s aimed at students, parents and educators and includes quizes and case studies of how stats has helped science change lives.

Website: This is Statistics

via Tim Harford on Twitter

Maths at the Cheltenham Science Festival

Next week, scientists, science fans and science communicators will converge on Cheltenham town hall for a week of high-quality science festival. But how much of the programme is given over to the queen of all sciences, Mathematics? Here’s a list of some of the events going on we’d be interested in going to.