11/9/13 "The Kakeya Needle Problem"
Professor Jon Bennett (University of Birmingham)
In 1917 the Japanese Mathematician Soichi Kakeya raised a very simple question: what is the minimum area required to turn a line of length 1 through 180 degrees in the plane? In this lecture we discuss the very surprising answer to this question, and indicate how such problems have come to lie at the heart of modern mathematics.
9/10/13 "The Maths Juggler"
Dr Colin Wright
Juggling has fascinated people for centuries. Seemingly oblivious to gravity, the skilled practitioner will keep several objects in the air at one time, and weave complex patterns that seem to defy analysis. In this talk the speaker demonstrates a selection of the patterns and skills of juggling while at the same time developing a simple method of describing and annotating a class of juggling patterns. By using elementary mathematics these patterns can be classified, leading to a simple way to describe those patterns that are known already, and a technique for discovering new ones. Along the way, we discover a few extra surprises...
Colin Wright graduated in Pure Mathematics at Monash University, Melbourne, before going on to get a PhD at Cambridge. While there he learned how to fire-breathe, unicycle and juggle. These days he is director of a company that specialises in software for marine radar, but takes out time to give juggling talks all over the world.
13/11/13 "Maths in the making of the modern world"
Professor Chris Budd (University of Bath)
We live in a world dominated by technology, from the Internet to the IPad and the mobile phone to GPS. Yet how many of us realise that all of this technology is based on mathematics, and that without maths the modern world would not exist.
In this talk Professor Budd describes the maths that makes internet giants like Google function, and is behind the programming of the iPod and the mobile phone. He will also show how maths had led to the modern information revolution. No previous knowledge of maths is needed, but please bring your imagination!
4/12/13 "Pi, interstellar dust, and single-pixel cameras: some surprising uses for random numbers"
Dr Iain Styles (University of Birmingham)
Randomly generated sequences of numbers are surprisingly useful tools that can help us perform complex calculations. In this talk, we will explore how random numbers can be used in a variety of ways: from a simple way to compute Pi, through modelling the propagation of radiation from stars through interstellar dust, to building imaging cameras that have only one pixel.
22/01/14 "The surprising difficulty of using mathematics in computer science"
Professor Achim Jung (University of Birmingham)
In 1959 the Noble Prize winner Eugene Wigner gave a talk with the title "The unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences". A write-up is easily available on the Internet, but, briefly, Wigner argued that in the natural sciences, and in physics in particular, mathematics exhibits an "a priori" usefulness and he speculates why this should be so. In computer science we also use mathematical language and mathematical theories, but one should perhaps not speak so much of "applicability" of one to the other, but of a rich and constantly evolving relationship between the two disciplines. I will trace one instance of this relationship; that which starts with Church's lambda calculus in the 1930s and has since led to the development of programming languages such as Haskell.
5/2/14 "Primes and Polygons"
Dr John Silvester (King's College London)
The game of constructing geometrical figures with ruler and compasses was invented by the ancient Greeks. Most people know how to construct an equilateral triangle, or a square; it is harder (but possible) to construct a regular pentagon, and impossible to construct a regular heptagon. What is going on here? There is an unexpected connection between the values of n for which a regular n-gon can be constructed, and the prime factors of n. It has to do with the Fermat primes, numbers of the form 2m + 1, where as far as we know m must be 1, 2, 4, 8 or 16. Fermat thought m could be any power of 2, but Euler showed he was wrong.
"100 million to 1: what can maths tell us about the Great Sperm Race?"
Dr David Smith (University of Birmingham)
Reproduction is a numbers game! The average man produces over a thousand sperm every heart beat, yet only one is needed for fertilisation. Due to the pressing need for better ways to diagnose infertility, the subject is very important. This talk focuses on work bringing different areas of science together, led by Birmingham Women's Hospital, through which maths, combined with engineering and physics, are being applied to understand how sperm propel themselves through the tortuous maze of the female tract. We will look at both the fluid mechanics of microswimming and the migration of populations through complex microarchitectures, including the tantalising possibility that sperm might be guided to the egg. The guiding theme will be how maths and computing help us to understand the counterintuitive world that sperm encounter; the talk will also feature both high speed imaging of cells in microscopic mazes and human tract explants, and ‘virtual sperm’ supercomputing simulations.