Taking QE mathematicians to a higher dimension

Thirteen Sixth-Formers heard about new and exciting topics in Mathematics from two university academics.

The Year 13 boys headed off to the Institute of Education for the two 2016 London Mathematical Society Popular Lectures. Each year, the LMS selects two lecturers who combine mathematical distinction with prowess in communication skills.

Dr Heather Harrington, of the University of Oxford, spoke on The shape of data in biology. She applied the relatively new field of computational topology to biological systems at differing scales, looking, for example, at the global spread of epidemics and at proteins interacting inside a cell. Using network models for each situation, Dr Harrington showed the insight that could be gained from considering the shape of the data before creating and solving systems of complex equations.

""In her lecture, entitled One, Two, Red, Blue, Dr Julia Wolf, of the University of Bristol (pictured above), took as her starting the point the game of noughts and crosses, which, when played by intelligent adults, always ends in a draw. Dr Wolf looked at whether this was also true if the game is played on a larger grid or in higher numbers of dimensions, such as the game Qubic, which is 3D four-in-a-row noughts and crosses. She showed that the question runs surprisingly deep: the number of arrangements of the symbols within the framework of the game quickly reaches a size that is beyond the most powerful computers, yet with relatively simple techniques it is possible to show whether a draw in such a game is inevitable, or whether a winning strategy is possible.

The boys reported afterwards that they had found the lectures stimulating: “I enjoyed considering the Mathematics of higher dimensions,” said Nitharsan Sathiyalingam, while Sanchit Agrawal said: “It was interesting to see that Maths can be found everywhere, even when you are not looking for it.”