Welcome to the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA) blog. The IMA is the UK's learned and professional society for mathematics and its applications. We promote mathematics research, education and careers, and the use of mathematics in business, industry and commerce. Among our activities we produce academic journals, organise conferences and engage with government.

In this blog we will publish mathematical articles and news to reflect the interests of our members who come from a multiplicity of different organisations including university academics, industrial mathematicians, financiers, school teachers, scientists, civil servants etc.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Why attending IMA talks can save you money

The IMA London branch's third meeting of the academic year was held on Tuesday 26th May at Imperial College, London. The speaker was John Birkenhead from HJC Actuarial Consulting Ltd. John gave a very entertaining and informative talk entitled 'Why is my car insurance so expensive?' which answered questions like: "How can the premium be so high when I’ve never had an accident?", "Why has my premium gone up when I have one more year's no claims discount?", and "Why won’t my current insurer price-match the cheapest quote I can obtain?"? John explained why it's not always as cut and dried as we might think and what the actuary's role is in determining the premium quoted.

As someone who always tends to leave purchasing car insurance to the last minute and thus never quite has enough time to shop around I found this was a very useful and potentially money-saving talk!

John showed some of the maths and statistics behind car insurance premiums explaining that the total insurance premiums offered by a company have to cover the sum of all claims, total expenses and total profit. As each of these has many variables, involves forecasting and there are constraints such as the customer wanting an individual premium and the insurer wanting their quote to be competitive, this leads to the formation of a very large multivariate probability model which needs to be solved.

John demonstrated how quotes are dependent on the date a policy starts (they are likely to be more if the start date is some weeks in the future), your occupation (we saw that premiums are much higher if you are a TV presenter) and how factors such as convictions and adding an extra driver can actually reduce your premium in some cases.

Having heard the talk my conclusion is that the cheapest car insurance quotes go to accountants aged 40-50 with no children or pets and who add a partner of similar age as another named driver. It can also be beneficial to have a minor conviction for speeding!

Whilst I can't do anything now about my occupation or children, I can at least shop around more using brokers, comparison web sites and by going direct to companies that do not use these methods. I just hope that this year I leave myself enough time to do this!

Friday, 9 May 2014

The National Centre for Excellence in Teaching Mathematics (NCETM) made a very nice post this week about the Teaching Scholarships that the IMA is involved with. The post is copied below.


The Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA), the London Mathematical Society (LMS), the Royal Statistical Society (RSS) and Mathematics in Education and Industry (MEI), are continuing working together to deliver Mathematics Teacher Training Scholarships for a second year.

Building on the successes of the first pilot year, they want to encourage more well qualified and passionate applicants to become secondary maths teachers. The OECD Report, Skilled for Life? Key findings from the survey of adult skills, has again highlighted the importance of teaching mathematics.

Up to 250 scholarships will be available, worth £25 000 each. Candidates are expected to have a strong academic background (First, 2:1 or postgraduate degree, high levels of mathematical knowledge and a desire to share their passion and love for maths. Candidates with a 2:2 may also be eligible if they bring significant additional experience).

As well as the £25 000 award, Scholars will become part of a supportive community. This will include two years' free membership of the IMA, LMS, RSS and MEI, with associated benefits. They are looking for applicants with the potential to become inspirational teachers and the future leaders in education.

Nigel Steele, IMA Honorary Education Secretary said:
'Mathematics is now understood to be of vital importance to the economy of this country. The first priority must be to attract those who can become the most effective teachers of mathematics to join the profession. We need them to inspire future generations to engage with the subject and discover the wealth of opportunities it can create'.
Alice Rogers, LMS Education Secretary said:
'The first year of the scheme has seen more than 90 Scholars who promise as they embark on their training year to become strong teachers, able to contribute a deep understanding of mathematics both to the schools where they teach and to nationwide developments in mathematics education. It is excellent that the scheme will continue'.
Roeland Beerten, RSS Director of Professional and Public Affairs said:
'The Royal Statistical Society welcomes the extension of this Scholarship scheme. The country needs teachers who can encourage our children to learn mathematics and statistics in an engaging and relevant way - not just to prepare them for future employment or education but as a key life skill in itself, so they can thrive and succeed in an increasingly data-rich society'.
Charlie Stripp, Chief Executive of MEI, said:
'We need more inspirational young people with a passion for mathematics to join the teaching profession. Good mathematics education is vital for our country’s future economic success and teaching mathematics is a very important and rewarding job. These Scholarships are extremely welcome'.

The IMA website has full details of the Scholarships, including information about how to apply. The closing date for the current application round is 9am on 16 June; the website also has details of future application rounds.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

IMA Branch Event - Derby

At the latest IMA East Midlands Branch Talk, given by Noel-Ann Bradshaw from the University of Greenwich, there was an interesting mix of people in the audience, including mathematicians and nurses. From this you might be able to work out that Noel-Ann was speaking about Florence Nightingale, with the topic being: 'using graphical statistical analysis to combat the spread of disease'.

Noel-Ann, a Council Member of the IMA, and a Council Member of the British Society for the History of Mathematics (BSHM), gave insight into the early life of Florence, looking at 'Who was she?', her home life, her character and also her education. All facts having been unearthed through doing some research. Noel-Ann cited several sources, including Mark Bostridge's biography of Florence and the BSHM article on Florence by M Eileen Magnello.

Noel-Ann went on to speak of many aspects of Florence's work and achievements. One that stuck in mind was the report to the Commission, which looked more like a novel, than a report! Intertwined with this was the discussion of Florence's famous statistics, including 'polar area diagrams'. Upon conclusion of the talk the audience asked several diverse questions, covering both mathematics and nursing!

Noel-Ann had travelled far to give this talk and I'm sure if you're interested in hearing about Florence you might be able to see the presentation elsewhere, perhaps at another IMA Branch event (like via the West Midlands Branch on 12th November!).    

Further talks are already scheduled this term in the IMA East Mildands Branch, with the next talk being: 'Some interesting observations on the early history of differential equations' by Tony Croft (Loughborough University) on 23rd May.

Monday, 11 February 2013

New prestigious mathematics scholarship to get top graduates into the classroom

An important and exciting message from David Youdan - Executive Director of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications: 

The IMA has received grant funding from the Teaching Agency to run the Mathematics Teacher Training Scholarships for ITT beginning in September 2013.  This scheme is supported by the LMS and the RSS. As part of the agreement we have been asked to promote the scheme to potential applicants as widely as possible.

150 Scholarships are available for excellent students, undertaking secondary maths teacher training in England during the 2013/14 academic year, who we believe have the potential to become inspirational teachers.

Applicants must have, or be expected to achieve, a 1st, 2.1, MSc or PHD in a subject with a strong mathematical content, have an  excellent understanding of maths at school level, and a commitment to education and teaching.  They should also be expected to demonstrate an understanding of the benefits that the study of maths will have for learners’ careers and its major importance to the UK economy. 

If successful, Scholars will be awarded £20,000, join a community of practice, have formal recognition of their abilities and teaching potential, be able to access early career support and benefit from free or reduced cost membership of, and access to selected professional bodies and their events and resources.

Please use your full networks to encourage applicants to come forward.

Thank you.


Friday, 16 November 2012

Lewis Carroll in Numberland

"We called him Tortoise because he taught us."

Students - please don't follow this example and call your teacher/lecturer a Tortoise - you wouldn't have gotten away with it in the 1860s and 150 years later you still won't!

However, this was but one of the lovely quotes given by Emeritus Professor Robin Wilson in his talk - "Lewis Carroll in Numberland" - to a large gathering of interested students, teachers, lectures, people from industry and many others at the University of Derby, in this, the latest event organised by the East Midlands Branch of the IMA. This particular event was also co-organised with the British Society for the History of Mathematics; Robin is currently President of the BSHM.

Robin, who has written a book of the same name, gave tremendous insight into the life and times of Charles Dodgson (who wrote under the pen-name Lewis Carroll). References that someone who has read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland may have missed were brought to light, such as who the bat referred to in the saying by The Hatter - "Twinkle, twinkle, little bat! How I wonder what you're at.".

Similarly, other works by Charles were brought to life, such as the book The Dynamics of a Particle, or as it should be interpreted "The Dynamics of a Parti-cle", with significance to the 'Parti'.

Robin concluded with detail of Charles' interest in logic in his later years, with examples of extremely complex problems having been found after his death in 1898.

I'm sure Robin will be giving this talk at other events, and if possible, I suggest you make the time to get along to it.

Further talks are already scheduled for December and January, with details on the IMA East Midlands Branch events page.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Friendly, informative and entertaining: the IMA Early CareerMathematicians Autumn Conference 2012

I am chairing the next IMA Early Career Mathematicians' conference for autumn 2012 at the University of Greenwich. I am organising this with Noel-Ann Bradshaw at Greenwich and Lizzi Lake at the IMA. As this gets closer I am increasingly excited about it and we have just agreed the programme so I wanted to share that with you here.

This conference will bring together mathematicians from all walks of life for a day of entertaining and interesting mathematics. This will be the tenth in this series of conferences that I have attended (and the 17th in the series to take place) so I know they are a great opportunity for early career mathematicians and students to meet others in similar career stages. Friendships are formed and everyone has a good time. Previous conferences have been described in Mathematics Today reports as "lively and informative", "a friendly and relaxed atmosphere" and "educational, informative and entertaining".

I believe the Early Career conferences have a useful role to play. Many mathematicians find themselves as the only mathematician in their team, or at their company, and the chance to meet others in similar situations in a friendly, mathematically-themed environment can be very valuable. Another beneficiary can be students, by coming into contact with near-peers in employment (both speakers and other delegates). This might help them with a career choice or certainly can get them talking to others who have been through what they are about to go through - getting a job or further study.

The schedule of talks is given at the bottom of this blog post. You will see we start with a hands-on session of puzzles, games and recreational maths, to wake us up and get everyone talking. After lunch, we will hear from four interesting early career mathematicians talking about their work in some diverse areas of mathematics and its applications. Talks will not be maths-heavy (it is the weekend, after all!) and the conference is suitable for anyone with an interest in mathematics.

Hopefully the schedule is flexible enough that people can make it from quite far away; the conference is on a Saturday starting at 11am (and there is a reasonable hostel in Greenwich for those who need to travel the day before).

Please consider attending the conference, and please help us out by promoting it to as many people as possible.

You can register for the conference via a form, available on the IMA website

I look forward to seeing you in Greenwich!

Peter Rowlett MIMA, Conference Chair, IMA Early Career Mathematicians' Autumn Conference 2012.

IMA Early Career Mathematicians' Autumn Conference 2012

Date: Saturday 24 November 2012
Location: University of Greenwich, Old Royal Naval College, Park Row,London SE10 9LS

10:30-11:00Registration, tea and coffee
11.00-11.10Welcome, Peter Rowlett
11.10-11.30Mathematical thinking through puzzles and games, Noel-Ann Bradshaw (University of Greenwich)
11.30-13.00Maths puzzles and games session, Noel-Ann Bradshaw (University of Greenwich), Prof David Singmaster (London South Bank University, retired), Laurie Brokenshire CBE (Royal Navy, retired) and Danny Brown (Greenwich Free School)
14.00-14.30Infection control – how are mathematical models useful? Dr Deirdre Hollingsworth (Imperial College)
14.30-15.00Working as an actuary in insurance, Justin Williams (Hiscox)
15.00-15.30Break, tea and coffee
15.30-16.00Modelling in the railway and energy industries, Geoff Bunce (Matrix Control Solutions)
16.00-16.30The use of uncertainty calculations in nuclear materials accountancy and safeguards, Jacqueline Bishop (Sellafield)
16.30-16.45IMA update, Erica Tyson
16.45-17.00Early Career Mathematicians Group update, Stephen Lee

Following the conference, those who want to will enjoy an informal post-conference dinner nearby. Please say when registering if you will join us for this.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Turing centenary : exhibitions and petitions

As a mathematician and a Mancunian, I am honour-bound to think that Alan Turing is great.  But when I visited Alan Turing and Life’s Enigma at Manchester Museum, what most impressed me about the man was not that he developed the encoding scheme for one of the first programmable computers, it was that as soon as he had access to it he was doing some really clever mathematical modelling, looking for a link between reaction-diffusion equations and morphogenesis.  As someone who does mathematical modelling, with computers, for a living, I was amazed to see the birth of my profession displayed in printouts with notes scribbled on them.  The exhibition also showed Turing’s papers on the subject and the cards he got from academics around the world, requesting that he send them a copy.  I didn’t realise that’s what people did at the time.  I guess that was the best way before Turing’s ideas about machines that compute slowly revolutionised the world.
The exhibition is part of the celebrations of the centenary of Turing’s birth.  This year also sees two petitions to get him remembered, one on the ten pound note and the other on the fourth plinth of Trafalgar Square.
The fourth plinth idea sounds brilliant.  By putting Turing in the square with Nelson, the nation can show its gratitude for a very different type of war hero.  But the brilliant idea looks doomed to failure.  In the 1990s a commission convened by the RSA recommended that the plinth be used for the temporary display of artworks.  However, there may be a way to do something.  In 2008 Terry Smith sought to get a permanent statue of Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Park erected on the plinth.  This did not happen but a temporary statue was erected on the plinth in Autumn 2009 (although some people didn’t appreciate it).  Perhaps a temporary statue is all we can hope for on this occasion too, but that is worth signing the petition for.
Turing on the tenner looks a lot more hopeful.  The current Bank of England £10 note is in series E, whereas the £20 and £50 notes are in series F.  The Bank must consider a series-F tenner at some point so getting Turing on there makes sense.  But what to depict?  Behind the current image of Darwin is a depiction of the voyage of the Beagle.  While I would love morphogenesis to appear on the tenner I know what everyone will say: It must depict the cracking of the Enigma.  This may be inevitable but I have a further suggestion.  The Adam Smith £20 note shows a seemingly innocuous observation on the manufacture of pins but this telling detail can be extrapolated to explain the Wealth of Nations.  Similarly, one idea of Turing's can be extrapolated to explain many of his others, and so many aspects of the modern world, from computers to the Allied victory in World War II.  The £10 note should depict the Turing Machine!