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chris good newsletter

Greetings from the School of Maths, I hope this newsletter finds you well.

This is my first newsletter to you after taking up the post of Head of School in July. The last 5 months have been an exceptionally challenging and difficult time across the world, and we can only hope that we are beginning to find our way out of this awful crisis. In March we made a rapid change to online teaching, assessment and (where possible) research operations, and as mathematicians we are fortunate to some degree in that as long as we have pen, paper and the ability to talk to each other we can still make progress.

We were delighted by the success of our graduating students, the enthusiasm shown by potential applicants at our online Open Days, and the fortitude shown by our continuing students and the staff supporting them.

We're proud to announce the School of Mathematics has scored top marks in the 2020 National Student Survey, succeeding in teaching and learning opportunities, assessments and feedback, and school community. There have also been some significant research successes over the past year, including our strongest year ever for Fellowships, and valuable contributions of our researchers to the COVID response in advising government bodies and healthcare professionals. Professor Dave Smith offers further detail on these below.

Finally, a big thank you to those you who have kindly volunteered with the School over the last academic year. Your mentoring of our students, guest lectures, sharing careers advice and even judging this year’s EPS Societies’ Awards is invaluable. If you'd like to get involved too, please get in touch with our Alumni Relations Manager, Grace Surman on eps-community@contacts.bham.ac.uk.

These are certainly unusual circumstances in which to take on leadership of the School, but I feel fortunate to be supported by our inspiring students and staff, and to inherit the excellent position left by my predecessor Paul Flavell. I wish you and your loved ones all the best as we emerge from these difficult times.

With very best wishes

Professor Chris Good
Head of the School of Mathematics

David Smith

Hello, further to Chris’ message I thought you’d like to hear further detail on some of our successes...

Starting with officially announcing Chris’ appointment to Head of School:

New Head of School

Chris Good took over the Head of School role from Paul Flavell in July 2020.

Paul is one of our longest-serving heads, having led the School since 2012, through a period of major expansion in student numbers, in particular the Jinan-Birmingham Joint Institute, and staff, increasing from 40 to 60 research active academics. Some of Paul’s most significant achievements include our continuing rise in teaching quality, culminating in our top NSS ranking in 2019, and leadership of the School through the challenges of the Covid-19 crisis this year. Paul will continue his teaching and research, and is looking forward to focusing on proving theorems in finite group theory.

Chris Good will be known to many alumni for teaching diverse courses from year 1 statistics to year 4 topology, in addition to roles from quality assurance, to admissions tutor, to Head of Education, and the supervision of many PhD students. Chris has driven many major developments in the School, most recently leadership of the J-BJI initiative and before that a refresh of the entire undergraduate curriculum from 2013-2017. His research is in topology and dynamical systems, exemplified by his recent landmark paper ‘Shifts of finite type as fundamental objects in the theory of shadowing', in the journal Inventiones Mathematicae. Chris has an Erdős number of 3 and an Erdős-Bacon number of 7.

Several staff members have been involved in mathematical modelling efforts to address the Covid-19 pandemic. Rosemary Dyson co-organised a Virtual Forum for Knowledge Exchange studying Mathematical Principles for Unlocking the Workforce, which advised the Department for Health and Social Care and several other government departments. Sam Johnson has been working with a consortium on using mathematics to maintain the safety of supermarket shoppers during and after the pandemic, and Dave Smith has developed mathematical models which have formed part of emergency guidelines on managing adrenal insufficiency during Covid-19 infection.

The School has had its most successful year ever with prestigious personal awards. Tom Montenegro-Johnson has received a Leverhulme Research Leadership Award on Shape Transforming Active Microfluidics, one of only 14 awarded across all of UK academia. Tyler Kelly was successful in securing a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship Open Mirror Geometry for Landau-Ginzburg Models, his second major grant since starting less than 2 years ago. Johannes Carmesin has secured an EPSRC Early Career Fellowship Graph Minor Theory in three dimensions and Connectivity. Wes Woldman, a Research Fellow appointed jointly between Mathematics and Systems Modelling and Quantitative Biomedicine, won an Epilepsy Research UK Emerging Leader Fellowship to support his work on translating mathematical models to help diagnose and treat seizures.

We are also delighted to welcome two new staff members who have chosen Birmingham as the host institution for their awards: Cyril Closset will bring his Royal Society University Research Fellowship, and Lewis Topley his UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship.

Sperm have a difficult job to do – they need to swim many times the length of their tiny body in order to reach the egg and fertilise – the winning sperm being ‘one in a trillion’. The School has been working for a number of years with Centre for Human Reproductive Science, Birmingham Women’s Hospital, to apply mathematical understanding to this process. One recent development concerns the last few microns of the sperm’s tail, which does not appear to be active or useful in propelling the sperm. In such a competitive situation, why would a sperm be carrying an inactive, useless part?

The answer to this mystery may have been provided by Cara Neal and Atticus Hall-McNair (PhD Applied Mathematics). By constructing mathematical simulations of sperm, they showed that the tip of the sperm’s tail is actually very useful in changing the shape of the swimming stroke, making it a bit faster, and much more efficient. The research has been featured in New Scientist, and supervisor Meurig Gallagher was interviewed on Dutch News Radio!

Dr Richard Montgomery, a Birmingham Fellow in the School of Mathematics, has been awarded the European Prize in Combinatorics, a prestigious award made once every two years for excellent contributions in Combinatorics, Discrete Mathematics and their applications.

The prize, which is traditionally awarded during the biennial European Conference on Combinatorics, Graph Theory and Applications, recognises the contribution to the field of European researchers aged 35 and under.

Speaking of the award, Richard said, "I was delighted to receive this prize with my co-author Alexey, and look forward to continuing this work in Birmingham."

Dave Needham, Professor of Applied Mathematics, retired in May 2020. Dave began his academic career as a lecturer at the University of East Anglia in 1984. He moved to Reading in 1994 to take up the position of Professor of Applied Mathematics and then in 2006 he came to Birmingham.

Dave’s research and teaching covers a broad spectrum of Applied Mathematics and Applied Analysis. In particular Reaction-Diffusion Theory, Nonlinear Waves, Dynamical Systems, Hydrodynamics, Boundary Layer Theory and Sturm-Liouville Theory. This has resulted in over 100 journal articles and several monographs, and he has inspired and enthused many hundreds of students in his tenure in Birmingham. We wish Dave well in his retirement and look forward to an in-person get together to thank him as the Covid-19 lockdown lifts.


You can read the 2020 Mathematics Alumni Newsletter here.