10th Younger Mathematicians’ Conference Report


Date: Saturday 16 May 2009
Location: Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford

As I made my way to the Lady Margaret Hall in Oxford, for the 10th IMA Younger Mathematicians’ Conference, the first thing that hit me was the wonderful location; the immaculately maintained lawn in the quadrangle and the period buildings surrounding it. I walked slowly towards the conference entrance, absorbing the atmosphere. As usual, I was greeted by two friendly faces at the registration desk. It was great to see that my online registration at www.ima.org.uk (which makes registering so much easier) had been successfully processed. I had a few moments to catch up with a few old friends (from previous conferences) before the conference began.

Unfortunately Georgina Bygott, our current Conference Leader wasn’t able to make it to the conference, which she so skilfully pulled together. However, our Chairperson Dan Tilley stepped in and hosted the conference, keeping us entertained, informed and on time throughout the day.

Our 10th conference saw the return of a workshop to the programme. During the morning session we were treated to a communication skills workshop, energetically presented by Sarah Eyles from Elsevier. Amazingly the participants were perfectly balanced in terms of the different personality types (e.g. Thinker, Controller, etc.), leading to full participation by everyone. We were on our feet engaged in an active learning session, which included some group work and some fierce but friendly rivalry. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the workshop, and we learnt a lot about improving our communication skills. For example, we learnt that if you are speaking with a “Thinker” you shouldn’t interrupt them, while if you are writing to a “Controller” you should be very succinct. At the end of the workshop, we each received a certificate of participation, which will count towards our application for Chartered Mathematician status – which was great! We had excellent feedback on this activity and I am sure I’m not alone in hoping that we will have similar workshops at many more future conferences.

Following the “active” sessions of the workshop, we were all ready and willing to be guided to a wonderful dining hall for lunch – and what a dining hall it was! It looked just like the great hall at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, in the Harry Potter movies; although maybe just a little bit smaller. The spread that was laid out for us was fantastic, and we all ate to our hearts’ content. The lunch break, as well as the various coffee breaks throughout the day provided many opportunities for catching up with old friends and meeting new ones. I’m always amazed at the variety of backgrounds from which the participants come, even though they are all Mathematicians! So as usual, this was another great opportunity for Networking.

The afternoon session comprised a mixture of subject presentations and information sessions. First we were taken on a brief journey through the history of Mathematical space by Dr. Richard Earl from the University of Oxford. During this journey we encountered some weird and wonderful phenomena like the Banach–Tarski paradox (1924), which states that a solid 3–dimensional sphere can be split into several nonoverlapping pieces, which can then be put back together in a different way to yield two identical copies of the original sphere. Although Dr. Earl presented the Mathematical proof of this paradox via the clever use of infinities and zeros, he did point out that this is impossible in the physical world.

Following on from that, Owen Cotton-Barratt, a postgraduate student at the University of Oxford immediately swept us off our feet and placed us carefully on top of a hyperbolic plane. He then enthusiastically took us on a guided tour of this hyperbolic plane showing us, for example, that if we draw a circle around us, its circumference is greater than the expected “2πr”. Our current IMA president Prof. David Abrahams then took us on a scintillating journey through the history of Crystallography, which all began with a “bombshell” paper (as he put it) in 1984 by Shechtman et al. We were treated to some great images of patterns, from X-ray diffraction patterns of crystals to Penrose tiles. Throughout his talk, Prof. Abrahams also highlighted the scientific breakthroughs that can be achieved when different scientists converge on the same problem from different directions at the right time.

As usual, we received an update from Peter Rowlett, our University Liaison Officer, who maintains a blog at http://travelsinamathematicalworld.blogspot.com. Jo Hodges from Science Oxford then gave us more information on the STEM (Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Ambassadors initiative, and asked for more volunteers to get involved in this great opportunity to promote Mathematics to schoolchildren. I also had the opportunity to update everyone on the activities of the Younger Members’ Group. Peter and I were both keen to further publicize our IMA Facebook group.

During this, our 10th conference, we were honoured by the presence of Amanda Padbury, the founder of the IMA Younger Members’ Group who initiated the Younger Mathematicians’ Conferences. The younger members’ committee took this opportunity to thank Amanda, on behalf of the IMA and especially on behalf of all the younger members, for all her efforts and hard work by presenting her with an IMA certificate officially recognizing her as the “Founder of the Younger Mathematicians’ Group” and bestowing upon her the title “Young for Life”, granting her the right to remain as member of the Younger Mathematicians’ Group throughout her life.

Another educational, informative and entertaining younger Mathematicians’ conference came to a close on this positive and (slightly) emotional note. Everyone is now looking forward to the next Younger Mathematicians’ Conference, to be held in Birmingham on the 14th of November. Make sure you keep the date free, as our prolific Conference Leader, Georgina, is sure to have pulled together another fantastic program for us. See you there!

Dr M Benjamin Dias MIMA

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