Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Fields Medal Winners announced

This year's 4 winners of the 2014 Fields Medal, mathematics most prestigious prize awarded by the International Mathematical Union, have been announced.

Maryam Mirzakhani is a 37-year old Iranian-born Professor of Mathematics at Stanford University in California. Martin Hairer, is a 38-year-old Austrian based at Warwick University in the UK. Manjul Bhargava, is a 40-year old Canadian-American at Princeton University in the US and Artur Avila, 35, is a Brazilian-French researcher at the Institute of Mathematics of Jussieu in Paris. Professor Maryam is the first ever female winner of the Medal.

The Fields Medal was established by Canadian mathematician John Fields and comes with a 15,000 Canadian dollar (£8,000) cash prize. The medal is awarded to between two and four researchers, who must be no older than 40, because Fields wanted to encourage the winners to strive for "further achievement" as well as recognise their success.

Frances Kirwan, Professor of Mathematics in Oxford and a member of the Fields Medal Committee, said of Professor Mirzakhani's success: "I hope that this award will inspire lots more girls and young women, in this country and around the world, to believe in their own abilities and aim to be the Fields Medallists of the future". Read an interview that Professor Mirzakhani gave to the Clay Mathematics Institute where she was a Fellow along with Professors Avila and Bhargava.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw (1912 - 2014)

Kathleen Ollerenshaw

We are sorry to announce the death of distinguished mathematician and educationalist Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw.

Born in 1912 and deaf since the age of eight, Kathleen was an undergraduate at Somerville College where she completed her doctorate in 1945 on "Critical Lattices" under the supervision of Theo Chaundy. She wrote five original research papers which were sufficient for her to earn her DPhil degree without the need of a formal written thesis. 

After the Second World War. Kathleen worked as a part-time lecturer in the School of Mathematics at Manchester University (it was not until after the war that at the age of 37 she received her first effective hearing aid). Kathleen wrote many important research papers, her best-known work being on most-perfect pandiagonal magic squares. She became President of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications from 1978-1979  and an annual public lecture at the School of Mathematics in Manchester is named in her honour.

Kathleen was also politically active, serving as a Conservative Councillor for Rusholme for twenty-six years (1956–1981), and as Lord Mayor of Manchester (1975–1976). She was also involved in the creation of the Royal Northern College of Music. She was made a Freeman of the City of Manchester and was an advisor on educational matters to Margaret Thatcher's government in the 1980s.

Composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies dedicated his Naxos Quartet No.9 to her. She died in Didsbury, Manchester on August 10th 2014.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Marcus Du Sautoy wins Christopher Zeeman Medal

Marcus du Sautoy

The Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA) and the London Mathematical Society (LMS) have announced that Professor Marcus du Sautoy, University of Oxford, will receive the 2014 Christopher Zeeman Medal for the Promotion of Mathematics to the Public.

Marcus du Sautoy has held the Charles Simonyi Chair for the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford since 2008 and has been communicating mathematics to the general public for more than 20 years. Marcus has appeared in and presented numerous radio and TV programmes, written many popular books and contributed to theatrical productions. These include the School of Hard Sums and TalkSport as well as news programmes on the World Service, BBC Radio 4, 5 Live and local radio. In 2006 Marcus become only the third mathematician to deliver the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures. His play X&Y, which grew out of his collaboration with Complicité Theatre Company’s production of A Disappearing Number, is an illuminating, thrilling work of theatre with mathematics genuinely at its core. His work with audiences exploring the mathematics in Mozart’s Magic Flute is similarly remarkable as a piece of mathematical communication.

In a joint statement, IMA President Professor Dame Celia Hoyles and LMS President Professor Terry Lyons FRS said, ‘We are delighted to award the 2014 Zeeman Medal to such a brilliant mathematician and exceptional communicator as Marcus du Sautoy. Mathematics plays a vital role in every aspect of our society and Professor du Sautoy plays a unique role in helping the public to become more excited about mathematics. He has an amazing ability to communicate the magic of mathematics to young and old alike, and to enthuse upcoming generations to engage with the subject.’

The Christopher Zeeman Medal is a triennial award of the IMA and LMS to recognise and reward the contributions of mathematicians involved in promoting mathematics to the public, and to encourage others to work in this area by demonstrating that such activities are valued and are a part of a mathematician’s role and responsibilities. The medal is named in honour of Professor Sir Christopher Zeeman, FRS, one of the UK’s foremost mathematicians who spent much of his career at the Universities of Warwick and Oxford sharing his love of mathematics with the public. In 1978, Sir Christopher was the first ever mathematician to be asked to deliver the Royal Institution’s Christmas lectures in its 125 year history.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Ben Green wins the Royal Society's Sylvester Medal

Professor Ben Green FRS has won the Royal Society's Sylvester Medal for his result on primes in arithmetic progression, and his subsequent proofs of a number of spectacular theorems over the last five to ten years. The Sylvester Medal is awarded biennially (in even years) “for the encouragement of mathematical research”.  The award was created in memory of the mathematician James Joseph Sylvester FRS, who was Savilian Professor of Geometry at the University of Oxford in the 1880s. It was first awarded in 1901. Originally it was awarded triennially, but from 2010 it is now awarded biennially in even years.


Monday, 28 July 2014

Life-Saving Mathematics at the British Science Festival, September 2014

Experimentation in critical fields such as heart attack, cancer, brain tumour and stem cells has enabled our knowledge of the human body and its inner workings to increase dramatically during the 20th and 21st centuries, allowing us to live longer than ever before.

Looking to the future, could we increase the pace of medical advances? Could we test possible treatments quickly and cheaply, whilst reducing experimental waste? Could we even identify the most important experiments we need to perform before even putting on a lab coat?

Mathematical modelling has the potential not only to meet these requirements but also to do so much more.

Oxford Mathematicians and Computer Scientists Dr Thomas Woolley, Dr Gary Mirams and Prof. Helen Byrne will be discussing their applications of mathematics and computer science to the pressing medical problems of the 21st Century at the British Science Festival this September in Birmingham, on Wednesday 10th September at 1pm.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Marcus du Sautoy wins The Sir George Thomson Gold Medal

Marcus du Sautoy

Marcus du Sautoy has been awarded The Sir George Thomson Gold Medal from the Institute of Measurement and Control. Awarded quinquennially, the Medal acknowledges contributions to measurement science resulting in fundamental improvements in the understanding of the nature of the physical world.  Sir George Thomson was the first President of the Institute, which office he held from 1944 to 1948.

The award of the Medal to Professor du Sautoy, Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science and a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, is in recognition of his considerable efforts to promote a positive public perception of mathematics and to explain the mathematician’s role in helping our understanding of our world.  The prize recognises the important contribution made by the series Marcus made on measurement for the BBC: Precision: The Measure of All Things. As part of the award he will give the Thomson lecture at the Royal Society on October 23, entitled 'From Measurement to Mathematics.'

Monday, 21 July 2014

Michael Collins' obituary of Sandy Green

Sandy Green's mathematical career had many facets, from Bletchley Park to Representation Theory, and spanned several seats of learning. His contribution to Oxford Mathematics was considerable. Read Professor Michael Collins' review from the Independent.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Oxford Mathematics Public Lectures online: Edward Frenkel - 'Love and Math'

'Love and Math' tells two intertwined stories: the wonders of mathematics and one young man's journey learning and living it. The book shows that mathematics - far from occupying a specialist niche - goes to the heart of all matter, uniting us across cultures.

In this presentation and discussion with Marcus Du Sautoy Edward discusses his book and his perspective on what mathematics is and should be.

Edward Frenkel is a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, the winner of the Hermann Weyl Prize in mathematical physics, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His book 'Love and Math' was a New York Times bestseller.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Mathematical model illustrates our online “copycat” behaviour

Researchers from the University of Oxford, the University of Limerick, and the Harvard School of Public Health have developed a mathematical model to examine online social networks, in particular the trade-off between copying our friends and relying on ‘best-seller’ lists.

The researchers examined how users are influenced in the choice of apps that they install on their Facebook pages by creating a mathematical model to capture the dynamics at play. By incorporating data from the installation of Facebook apps into their mathematical model, they found that users selected apps on the basis of recent adoptions by their friends rather than by using Facebook’s equivalent of a best-seller list of apps. The model suggests users tended to be swayed by recent activity—from their `friends’ on Facebook—that they saw on their Facebook feeds over the previous couple of days. The research, published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds that the “copycat” tendency in human behaviour is strong and that we can be influenced by the activities of others over a relatively short period of time.

The mathematical model examined data from an empirical study published in 2010, which had tracked 100 million installations of apps adopted by Facebook users during two months. In the 2010 study, based on data collected in 2007, all Facebook users were able to see a list of the most popular apps (similar to best-seller lists) on their pages, as well as being notified about their friends’ recent app installations. In the 2010 study (which included two of the authors of the new study), researchers found that in some cases, a user’s decision to install some apps seemed virtually unaffected by the activities of others, whereas sometimes they were strongly affected by the behaviour of others – even though the apps in these two categories did not appear to be distinguished by any particular characteristics. Instead, once an app reached some popularity threshold (as measured by the installation rate), its popularity tended to rise to stellar proportions.

In the new study, the researchers developed a mathematical model to distinguish between the consequences of two distinct, competing mechanisms that appeared to drive the dynamics behind the behaviour of the Facebook users. Using their model and extensive computer simulations, they looked behind the empirical data to see whether Facebook users’ behaviour could be modelled as being influenced primarily by the notifications of apps recently installed on their friends’ Facebook pages or mainly driven by which apps appeared on the best-seller list. Using the supercomputers of the Irish Centre for High-End Computing (ICHEC), the researchers ran thousands of simulations in which they varied the relative dominance of the two influences (recent installations versus cumulative popularity). It took the researchers 15,000 hours of computer processing to best match the results of the simulations with the characteristics of app installation that were observed in the earlier empirical study.

The researchers found that, although users seem to be influenced by both, the stronger effect on popularity dynamics was caused by the recent behaviour of others.The best-seller list did have a ‘mild’ effect on the behaviour of Facebook users, but an instinct to copy the behaviour of others was by far the more dominant instinct. 

Associate Professor Felix Reed-Tsochas, James Martin Lecturer in Complex Systems at the Said Business School and Director of Complexity Economics at the Institute for New Economic Thinking at the University of Oxford, said: ‘We have used sophisticated modelling techniques to show how it is possible to tease apart different causal mechanisms that underpin behaviour even when the empirical data are purely observational. This is significant because the assumption these days is that only experimental research designs can provide such answers. Here, we found that the “copycat” tendency plays a very important role in online behaviour. This might be because users need to make quick decisions in information-rich environments, but other research has identified similar imitative behaviour in the off-line world.’

Professor James Gleeson, from the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Limerick, said: ‘This study reveals how we can explore different scenarios using mathematical models to disentangle what drives people to behave the way they do using large data sets from the real online world. This opens up lots of new possibilities for studying human behaviour.’

Commenting on the significance of the method behind the study, Associate Professor Mason Porter, from the Mathematical Institute at University of Oxford, said: ‘We hope that our paper can help serve as a guide for modelling complex systems and how data can be incorporated directly into such modelling efforts. The importance of mathematical modelling often seems to be lost amidst the overabundance of empirical studies, and I cannot stress enough that mathematics is also crucial to help illustrate how things work.’

The other authors of the new study were Dr Davide Cellai (University of Limerick) and Assistant Professor Jukka-Pekka Onnela (Harvard).

For more information see the PNAS webpage, and contact the University of Oxford News and Information Office on:

+44 (0)1865 280534 or email:


*The paper, ‘A simple generative model of collective online behavior’, by James P Gleeson. Davide Cellai, Jukka-Pekka Onnela, Mason A Porter and Felix Reed-Tsochas will be published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

*The data used by the research team contains no information about individuals, and only information about individual applications, so there are no implications in terms of the privacy of individual Facebook users.

Sunday, 6 July 2014