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.

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!

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Introducing the New Early Career Mathematicians' Committee for the Year 2012/13

We are pleased to announce that, following the recent call for nominations and elections, the new Early-Career Mathematicians (ECM) Committee for the year 2012/13 is now in place.

As we move forward with the new committee, we would like to thank our retiring committee members Ellis Cresswell, Caitlin Jones, Ravi Gajria and Millan Bel for their services to the IMA over the last year. We would like to add a special thanks to our youngest committee member, Millan, who did a sterling job in upgrading and managing our FaceBook group last year, and we wish him all the very best as he goes on to study at university this year.

We would also like to say a special thank you to all the other candidates who put themselves forward for election this year, and to all of our ECM group members who voted in the elections. It was great to have the support and engagement from the wider ECM group, and we look forward to your continuing active participation in IMA, and especially ECM group activities.

If you have any ideas about new activities we could organise, and/or if there is anything the IMA or the ECM group could do for you, please do get in touch via our dedicated e-mail address ecm@ima.org.uk, our FaceBook group or our LinkedIn group or via the IMA Twitter account. Alternatively, you can also contact any member of the new committee directly.

The new ECM Committee consists of:

Chair: Stephen Lee CMath MIMA
Vice Chair and Chair-Designate: Sharon Evans MIMA
Conference Leaders: Peter Rowlett MIMA & Lindsay-Marie Armstrong AMIMA
Conference Leader-Designate: Jacqueline Bishop AMIMA
Promotion Leader: Sara Owen AMIMA
Engagement Leader: Richard Crawford CMath MIMA
Immediate Past Chair: M Benjamin Dias CMath FIMA CSci

You can find more information on each member on the IMA website.



(NB. The majority of this text is extracted from a forthcoming article in Mathematics Today, written by Ben Dias.) 

Monday, 2 July 2012

There is some interest at the moment about the connection between maths and puzzles and games and whether they can be used to support the teaching of mathematics (MSOR, 2011).

The Mathematics department at the University of Greenwich started a Maths Arcade in September 2010. This provides an opportunity for maths students to play various strategy games, test their ability with a weekly maths puzzle competition as well as get help working through tutorial sheets. The aim of the Arcade is to stretch the most able students whilst providing somewhere for students to get support from staff and their peers and to meet informally to chat about current mathematical research.

Thanks to HE STEM funding, several more Maths Arcades are now in place at various universities around the country including Manchester, Leicester, Sheffield Hallam and Bath.

To find out more about the project and how to start your own Maths Arcade read the start-up guide that is now available on the IMA website. A booklet containing articles from each of the Maths Arcades will be published soon by MSOR and will also be available from the IMA website.

If you are interested in this topic you may want to come to the next ECM conference which is taking place on Saturday 24th November at the University of Greenwich as the morning session will have a focus on puzzles and games and how they can be used to develop strategic thinking. Also take a moment to listen to Ian Stewart talking to Peter Rowlett about this topic on episode 101 of the Math/Maths podcast (starts at about the 19th minute) .

Friday, 15 June 2012

Early Career Mathematicians Group Election

In April I wrote that the Early Career Mathematicians (ECM) Group Committee sought nominations for vacancies. The vacancies for Conference Leader-Designate & Engagement Leader received more than one nomination each so there is an election.

Early Career Mathematicians who are members of the IMA (within 15 years of graduating from a university mathematics degree or who do not have a degree and are within the first 15 years of their membership) should have received a voting form by email. If you think you fit this definition but did not receive a voting form, please get in touch.

There are five strong candidates and the choice was not easy but I have just sent in my completed form. Have you sent yours? The deadline is Saturday 30th June 2012.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Peter McOwan's Maths & Computing Magic Show

Yesterday the East Midlands Branch of the IMA enjoyed The Maths and Computing Magic Show by Peter McOwan, Professor of Computer Science at Queen Mary, University of London. Peter showed various magic tricks which rely on principles of mathematics or computing - with no trickery or slight of hand - and invited the audience to explore some of the mathematical principles behind the tricks. Peter is an engaging performer and ensured the large audience were entertained, informed - and kept guessing!

To find out more about the maths and computing behind magic, check out The Manual of Mathematical Magic and Computer Science for Fun (cs4fn) websites. The Manual of Mathematical Magic is a book available to download from the website, and is
packed full of magical miracles to impress and entertain your friends. The secrets behind street magic, close-up and stage tricks are explained clearly with instructions and videos to help you perform them perfectly. Then you can learn about the maths behind the trick and discover how that same mathematics is used to power our modern world and numerous careers.
Computer Science for Fun is "a magazine where the digital world meets the real world" with a section on magic. Here is a video from the site of Peter "explaining how he got into the world of magic, and the ways that computing and magic are similar".

The other element of Peter's talk was the use of illusions and if you are interested to find out more about this aspect then check out Illusioneering. This provides videos and downloadable resources.
Hidden in each of our effects lurks fascinating science and engineering. Our magical marvels are powered by concealed chemistry, paradox producing physics, baffling biology, mysterious mathematics and enchanting engineering. Secret science and engineering has been behind every single magical and conjuring effect throughout history, and now is your opportunity to discover it to help you amaze and amuse, entertain and educate.
The meeting was preceded by the Branch AGM  at which Malcolm Savage stood down as Chair following two years of dedicated service. Peter Rowlett was elected Chair and Stephen Lee as Senior Vice Chair.

Future talks are listed on the IMA East Midlands Branch webpage.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Call for nominations for the IMA Early Career Mathematician GroupCommittee

Update (15/05/2012): Early Career Mathematicians Group Election.

The Early Career Mathematicians' (ECM) group of the IMA continues to be a great success with activities and conferences being planned all year round, and an ever-growing active presence on Social Media sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn. The group has grown from strength to strength because of the enthusiasm and commitment of the ECM Committee.

Four vacancies (descriptions below) will open up on the ECM Committee this July, and we are looking for more fun, enthusiastic & committed ECM members to join the committee, and build on the great work we have achieved so far.

Please e-mail Benjamin.Dias@Unilever.com andSusan.Bolton@ima.org.uk if you would like to put yourself forward for any of these vacancies, or would like further information. You may also nominate someone else who you think will be willing and able to take on these roles.

The deadline for nominations will be the 31st of May. All Early Career Mathematicians (ECMs)* who are members of any grade (e.g. Member, Associate Member, Student Member, etc.) of the IMA are eligible, so get your Nominations in ASAP!

We look forward to hearing from you!

Kind Regards,

Dr. M. Benjamin Dias MIMA
Early Career Mathematicians' Committee
Institute of Mathematics and its Applications

1] Vice Chair and Chair-Designate (Term of office: 1 Year):
The Vice Chair supports the Chair, arranges committee meetings, records and circulates committee discussions and actions. The Vice Chair is also the Chair-Designate and is expected to take over as new Chair the following year.
[The Chair (Term of office: 1 Year) provides leadership and a focus for the group, acts as a direct liaison to the IMA Council and Secretariat, and is also responsible for coordinating responses to e-mails sent to the IMA ECM email mailbox.]

2] Conference Leader-Designate (Term of office: 1 Year):
The Conference Leader-Designate supports the IMA Conference Officer in organizing in advance, the two ECM Conferences for the following year, by identifying a suitable location, securing speakers and pulling together a suitable programme. The Conference Leader-Designate is also expected to take over as the new Conference Leader the following year.
[The Conference Leader (Term of office: 1 Year) hosts the two ECM Conferences that take place during their year of office, and liaises with the IMA Conference Office on behalf of the ECM Committee regarding all conference related queries.]

3] Promotion Leader (Term of office: 1 Year):
The Promotion Leader coordinates the promotion of the IMA, the ECM group and Mathematics to ECMs (by for example organizing ECM social and networking events), and also coordinate the promotion of the ECM group's activities to the wider IMA membership (for example via Mathematics Today articles and the IMA Social Media platforms).

4] Engagement Leader (Term of office: 1 Year):
The Engagement Leader’s role is to encourage ECM members to engage more actively with the IMA by upgrading their membership, gaining Chartership designation and engaging with the IMA in their local areas, either by being involved with their local branch or setting one up where no local branch exists. The Engagement Leader also liaises with the IMA University Liaison Officer to encourage ECM support for IMA activities aimed at engaging with university students.

* Early Career Mathematicians (ECMs) are defined as:
  • Mathematicians within 15 years of graduating from a university Mathematics degree, or
  • Members of the IMA who do not have a degree and are within the first 15 years of the first time they joined the IMA

Friday, 20 April 2012


A call for sponsorship of the 50th Anniversary of the IMA

The Institute of Mathematics and its Applications is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2014. This is a first call for interested parties to become involved in the support and sponsorship of events to publicise mathematics and the hugely important role that it plays in the modern world, together with the 50 years of support to mathematics and mathematicians given by the IMA. Sponsors of the IMA events will have a unique opportunity to raise their profile and address the wider mathematics community: students, teachers, early career graduates, and professional mathematicians within commercial sectors, public sectors and academia. Through doing this they will both position themselves centrally within this important national community and align their company with the excellence and aspirations of mathematics and its applications.

The IMA at 50

To celebrate 50 years of achievement, the IMA plans an exciting series of events during 2014. These will look forward to the developments and limitless opportunities for the applications of mathematics in the next 50 years and celebrate the achievements of the past. Plans include regional meetings, competitions and a book, but most importantly:

Mathematics for Everyone at Manchester: a look to the future involving academia, schools and industry aimed to enthuse the next generation of mathematicians

An afternoon of mathematics at the Royal Society, London: celebrating the last 50 years

These events are an exciting and unique opportunity to celebrate the centrality of mathematics in modem life, and the role played by the IMA in its development.

Sponsorship and Involvement

We are seeking sponsorship and involvement from all users of mathematics: to support the planned events (contributions from £10,000), and encourage younger participants through prizes at the events and online (contributions in the order of £5,000). Early sponsorship will give you high profile in all of the advertisement materials and promotional events directed at a wide number of participants in academia, schools and industry in the two year build up to the anniversary, as well as a high profile in the events during 2014. It will also guarantee a permanent record of your support in the published book.


We also want to make sure that we produce a continuing legacy for mathematics. Therefore our fundraising target will also consider sustainability and, of the funds that we will raise, 40% will be used in 2014 and 60% over the following three years.

I do hope that you will feel able to sponsor our IMA Golden Jubilee!
To contact us to discuss how you could be involved email the IMA Executive Director, David Youdan david.youdan@ima.org.uk and the IMA@50 coordinator Chris Budd, mascjb@bath.ac.uk

Professor Robert MacKay FRS FInstP C Math FIMA
IMA President

Saturday, 24 March 2012

A maths afternoon in Nottingham: game shows and sport

Some of the audience waiting to enter the Maths Inspiration show
On Thursday I spent an enjoyable afternoon with Rob Eastaway in Nottingham. I attended the Maths Inspiration show at the Nottingham Playhouse, which featured talks by Chris Budd (IMA Vice President) on man-made climate change (is it really happening? The section of the audience near me thought so but Chris told me he heard quite a lot of "no"s), Mike Fletcher on game shows and Steve Mould on various topics. Helen Pilcher was acting as compere and Rob was in charge behind the scenes.
All the talks were excellent and it was pleasing to see a 700 seater theatre sold out with years 11, 12 and 13 for a show about mathematics (see photo above). I found Mike Fletcher's talk particularly interesting. He discussed game shows from the point of view of a recent news story, which we covered on the Math/Maths Podcast episode 88, that several game shows are being investigated by the Gambling Commission as possibly not containing enough skill to be operated without a gambling licence.

Mike took us through Play Your Cards Right, apparently due for a relaunch and one of the shows mentioned in the Gambling Commission story. I thought predicting whether the next card will be higher or lower in face value than the current card involved minimal skill, but Mike made a convincing argument otherwise. There's a lot more to the game than I realised because you can at times choose to swap the card you are playing for another from the deck or force your opponent to play, and all the cards are chosen from a single deck.

Showing various aspects of strategy, involving basic and conditional probabilities, Mike said if you played the game mathematically you could expect go home with the car about 3 times in 10. Statistically, he said, contestants win the car about 1 time in 10, which I think is a fairly convincing indication that there is a skill involved that people are generally lacking, but which can be learned.

In the evening Rob Eastaway gave his talk 'From Lampard to the Olympics' based on his book with John Haigh The Hidden Maths of Sport (review at Plus). This was an interesting and enjoyable talk, despite my relative dis-interest in sport, and well attended by a capacity audience of nearly 70. Rob made a point of avoiding discussion purely of the relatively well know use of statistics in sport. He gave examples of various mathematical topics in cricket, football, rugby, darts, tennis, basketball, athletics and American football. I don't want to give away the details, but you should look out for Rob speaking near you or pick up a copy of his book for further details.

Rob Eastaway doing a live 'ball game' based demo at his talk.
The next East Midlands Branch talk will be The Mathematics Magic Show by Peter McOwan on Wednesday 16 May 2012 at the University of Leicester. Peter is a researcher in computer vision with an amateur interest in magic, a combination that has led to research into visual illusions and outreach work with mathematics and magic. The meeting is preceded by a short AGM at 7.10pm (for those who are interested) before the talk at 7.30pm. No charge is made to attend meetings, non-IMA members are welcome.

Update (24/03/2012): Updated list of sports covered in Rob's talk, thanks to Mike Black on Twitter for filling in the gaps in my memory.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Mathematics Matters - a crucial contribution to the country's economy

Yesterday, 15th March 2012, I had the opportunity to attend the Mathematics Matters seminar hosted by the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee in collaboration with the Council for Mathematical Sciences. The aim of the event was to promote the role played by mathematics and mathematicians in society.

The session began with Prof. Sir Adrian Smith (standing in for an apologetic David Willetts MP). Prof Smith began by saying that David Willetts and the government are well aware of the importance of mathematics and the part it plays in key national and strategic priorities. It was pointed out that whilst maths is becoming a more popular subject to study at university we are still not producing enough graduates to satisfy demand.

Prof. David Spiegelhalter spoke next on his role in educating the public and press in how to use statistics correctly. This was partly based on the recent tabloid headlines concerning scares over red meat. David also talked about the mathematics of risk and how the national risk register has changed to incorporate new risks such as disruption caused by volcanic ash.

Malcolm MacCallum, Director of the Heilbronn Institute in Bristol, gave a fascinating talk about Tutte and Flowers' contribution to the deciphering of messages encrypted by the Tunny machine using Colossus.

After a break for refreshments the session resumed with Deirdre Hollingsworth presenting work on the modelling of epidemics and the use of vaccination. She continued with a mathematical model showing how the use of bed-nets and interior spraying can significantly reduce the spread of malaria amongst children in Africa.

The final talk was from Professor Jared Tanner, who just managed to arrive in time from fog-bound Edinburgh, about the mathematics used to fill in missing data in photographs. He showed how this had implications in tracking movement and taking MRI scans of young children.

The session was summed up by Stephen Timms MP and followed by a short time of discussion during which the following points were raised:

  • There is a need to increase public awareness of the use of mathematics and to encourage more to study it beyond A-level;

  • There is no parliamentary group for mathematics;

  • Because of the nature of the subject it is not always possible to foresee the possible impact of research.

    This was a very enjoyable morning that I hope will improve awareness of the need to increase the numbers of undergraduates and post-graduate mathematicians in our universities.
  • Thursday, 15 March 2012

    Pi day at Kingswood School

    Yesterday was Pi day (the 14th day of the 3rd month - 3.14 if you're using that dating system). Plus Magazine have a roundup of some pi-themed material. I celebrated with a blog post How to calculate π.

    Meanwhile, Garrod Musto, IMA Council member and Head of Mathematics at Kingswood School in Bath, enjoyed pi day with his students. One of his year 10 students created a pi day poem which Garrod sent to me to share via this blog.
    The best smelling food has its own day,
    A day when Mr Musto brought in cup cakes on a tray,
    If you still don’t know the date I’ll continue with the clues,
    I’ll carry on going with my poem chocolates the last thing I’d want to lose,
    What’s the sexiest number in Australians eyes?
    What number goes around as a symbol for a disguise?
    It looks like a table with a curly leg,
    Or if you turn it round it looks like a peg,
    Its 3.14 backwards if you take a look,
    William Shanks found the first 707 digits no matter how many years it took,
    The first 144 digits all add up to six hundred and sixty six,
    To screw up completely only one number has to be a miss,
    People drove themselves mad trying to figure it out,
    They had no way of cheating if they were in doubt,
    The first million decimal places consist of 99,959 zeros, 99,758 1s, 100,026 2s,
    William Shanks lost a few numbers for him to lose,
    The biggest number so powerful alone,
    The biggest number I’ve even know,
    You still don’t know the date,
    On which all mathematical geniuses celebrate,
    So many people taken the problem to their grave,
    Try and remember them if you’re brave,
    Go ahead and give it a Try,
    Remember the thousands of numbers which all make pie

    Monday, 5 March 2012

    David Nelson on mathematical dictionaries

    On Friday, the East Midlands Branch welcomed David Nelson for a talk "Two Dictionaries of Mathematics, 1679 and 1989" at the University of Nottingham.

    I was lucky enough to spend a little time with David before and after his talk. He was full of anecdotes from his varied career (including the time he convinced a young man named Ian Stewart to write a book about chaos). He was interviewed in 2010 by Terry Edwards for the IMA members' publication Mathematics Today. (Those with copies will find this interview printed in two parts in vol. 46, iss. 6, pp. 292-295 and vol. 47, iss. 1, pp. 32-35.) This records David as:
    A mathematician, publishing editor (including the Penguin Dictionary of Mathematics), musician, educationalist and in the context of mathematics, a psychologist and historian.
    In his talk, David spoke about Joseph Moxon’s Mathematicks made Easie: or, a Mathematical Dictionary Explaining the Terms of Art and Difficult Phrases used in Arithmetick, Geometry, Astronomy, Astrology, and other Mathematical Sciences (1679), the first mathematical dictionary to be published in English. You can view some pages from this book at Abebooks.co.uk (although the pricetag, at £895, will be a little high for most!). The pictures are from the second edition, much enlarged in 1692 following Moxon's death (also, despite his title, the version David showed in his talk).

    Wikipedia reports (mostly confirmed by my memory of David's talk):
    Joseph Moxon (1627-1700) was a London dealer and printer, specialising in mathematical books and instruments, a globe maker, amateur in the mechanical arts, hydrographer to Charles II, and Fellow of the Royal Society, the first tradesman to be so elected. He was the first to produce a dictionary devoted to mathematics in the English language.
    David used this dictionary to take us on a tour of early dictionaries of mathematics (in English and otherwise).

    The second dictionary in David's talk was one he edited, the Penguin Dictionary of Mathematics, now in its greatly expanded fourth edition. David explained some of the process of attracting contributions and putting together such an undertaking.

    On the subject of mathematical reference, before the talk I wondered idly on Twitter: "These days, what would you use to look up an unknown mathematical term or concept?" Early replies came in for Wikipedia, Wolfram Alpha, Twitter and "The Princeton companion to Mathematics", so I set up a poll. This is wholly unscientific, not least because it was effectively a poll of Twitter users, but the results (100 responses) were:
    • Do a web search: 35%;
    • Wolfram Alpha: 13%;
    • Wikipedia: 28%;
    • Ask on a social network eg Twitter: 5%;
    • Look in a book: 16%;
    • Other: 3%.
    The most common response was to do a web search or look on Wikipedia. David addressed this point in his talk, admitting that he does use Wikipedia at times and that the availability of such online tools has affected sales of the book in more recent editions. I was surprised that as many as 16% responding to my poll would consult a book. David said that many people had told him they still keep a copy of the Penguin dictionary on their desks. Actually, given the availability of curated definitions, written by experts and edited for style, plus the serendipity of stumbling across other definitions while searching, I left the talk fairly well convinced of the value of a printed dictionary as well.

    The next IMA East Midlands Branch talk will be The Hidden Maths of Sport by Rob Eastaway on 22nd March 2012, also at the University of Nottingham. Further Branch talks are available via the IMA website. 

    Thursday, 16 February 2012

    University of Greenwich sign up over 100 IMA e-Students

    Erica Tyson (IMA University Liaison Officer) visited the University of Greenwich today to speak to maths students about the benefits of joining the IMA. This visit was part of a project funded by an HEA Teaching Development Grant aimed at enhancing students' employability skills. Project leader, Dr Nadarajah Ramesh said "engagement with professional bodies such as the IMA is very important for today's maths students".

    Erica also spoke to the students about maths careers and how to apply for graduate jobs. She mentioned the Maths Careers website as being an excellent place to find out more information.

    After Erica's talks to both first and second year students, over 100 University of Greenwich maths students signed up to join the IMA e-Student community. Noel-Ann Bradshaw, principal lecturer and IMA member, said that she thought the e-Student scheme was an excellent idea and hoped that many of their students would attend IMA events and go on to take up full membership in the future.

    For more information about the role of the University Liaison Officer and the e-student scheme look on the student IMA webpage.

    Saturday, 21 January 2012

    Representing the IMA at the YRM

    The Young Researchers in Mathematics (YRM) Conference is to be held in Bristol from 2nd to 4th April 2012 and the IMA is looking for volunteers to help "man" the IMA stand.

    Ideally we are looking for post-graduates with some work experience (either as a researcher at university or in industry).

    Volunteers will be expected to hand out leaflets and answer questions about their career choices or their field of work/research.

    If you can help out on any or all of the days please contact the Conference Officer at conferences@ima.org.uk to register your interest.