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 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.

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