Thursday, 29 October 2015

'M.C. Escher: Artist, Mathematician, Man' - Public Lecture online

M.C. Escher is known as the mathematician's (and hippie's) favourite artist. But why? And was Escher, a man who claimed he knew no mathematics, really a mathematical genius?

In this lecture Roger Penrose and Jon Chapman not only show why Escher has won the artistic and mathematical hearts of mathematicians, but also why his art is inspiring both artists and mathematicians today, as captured in Jon's brilliant updating of Escher's 'Picture Gallery' to the new mathematics building in Oxford.

Please note the BBC film is not available on this film.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Oxford-Emirates Data Science Lab will streamline air travel

Oxford University has today opened a new Data Science Lab in collaboration with Emirates. It will see experts from around the University use cutting-edge analysis to help the airline make its services more efficient and customer-focussed.

The new Lab will bring together researchers from at least five departments within the University, including the Mathematical Institute, the Oxford Internet Institute and the Departments of Engineering Science, Computer Science and Statistics. Joined by visiting Fellows from Emirates, the academics will work with the airline’s ever-growing datasets to help it understand its processes and customer preferences in greater detail. In turn, it will create new products and services, better suited to the needs of its passengers.

"In recent years, airlines have gained access to much more data than they had in the past — from the price of tickets they sell online to the music preferences of frequent flyers,” explains Peter Grindrod CBE, Professor of Mathematics at the University’s Mathematical Institute and Director of the new Lab. “In other sectors, we’ve already seen that businesses which become data-rich assume a more customer-focussed approach and now it’s the turn of the airlines. We’ll help Emirates fuse together data and analyse it in the right way, so they can create new services and operational advantages.”

The University will provide Emirates with a wide-ranging pool of expertise in the form of mathematicians, scientists, engineers and social scientists. Emirates will provide industry expertise and the data itself — including information from its Skywards loyalty program. “At Oxford we have experts in all kinds of relevant areas — from optimisation and machine learning, to behavioural analytics and ethics,” continues Professor Grindrod.

In particular, researchers from the Mathematical Institute will investigate how to apply optimisation techniques to the Emirates data, and a team from Engineering Science will develop machine learning techniques that allow complex data sets to be interrogated quickly and efficiently. Meanwhile, social scientists from the Oxford Internet Institute will use behavioural analytics to understand the human aspects of the data. “It’s an exciting time for data science, with rapid advances in the techniques we use being applied to real problems that will have an impact on people’s lives,” adds Grindrod.

The new Lab — which was formally opened today by the President of Emirates, Sir Tim Clark, and Professor Grindrod — will be situated within the Mathematical Institute and form part of the Oxford Centre for Information. The partnership will last for five years.

Speaking at the Lab’s official launch at the University, Sir Tim Clark said: “In the age of the digital economy, we have witnessed first-hand how technology-based innovation can transform brands and disrupt entire industries by placing the customer at the heart of the business. The Oxford-Emirates Data Science Lab will provide us with a best-in-class dedicated team who can test and develop new business solutions using big data and real-time analytics, helping to the transform the Group into a customer-centric, travel experience company

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Dancing Vortices - Étienne Ghys Public Lecture now online

Vortices do amazing things. They dance, they tie themselves in knots, they challenge mathematicians to explain them. In this case Étienne Ghys, CNRS Directeur de Recherche at the École Normale Supérieure de Lyon takes on the task of explaining.

Oxford Mathematics was pleased to host this lecture as part of the Clay Mathematics Institute’s 2015 Research Conference.

Étienne Ghys is the first recipient of the Clay Award for the Dissemination of Mathematical Knowledge.



Monday, 12 October 2015

Peter Neumann to be awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Science by the University of Hull

Dr Peter Neumann, Emeritus Professor of Mathematics in Oxford and Fellow of the Queen's College, will be awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Science by the University of Hull in January 2016.  

Peter Neumann's research has ranged over a number of areas of algebra and its history and he has published about 130 articles, books and reviews. He is an expert on the work of Évariste Galois. He has been awarded a number of prizes including the Senior Whitehead Prize by the London Mathematical Society in 2003, and the David Crighton Medal jointly by the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications and the London Mathematical Society in 2012. He was appointed an Officer in the Order of the British Empire, New Year 2008, for services to education. 

Peter has taken on many roles during his career including Chairman of the United Kingdom Mathematics Trust (UKMT) and President of the British Society for History of Mathematics (BSHM). Presently (April 2015 t0 April 2016) He is President of the Mathematical Association (MA).

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Illegitimate Objects - art inspired by mathematical surfaces

Most old-established mathematics departments around the world have somewhere, gathering dust in a corner cabinet, a collection of plaster models of surfaces. In the 1880s these were a must-have item for geometrically minded mathematicians and James Joseph Sylvester, the Savilian Professor of Geometry in Oxford, accordingly acquired a set from Germany. They were not cheap, and in October 1886 Sylvester had to cancel a series of lectures because a cash-strapped university hadn’t agreed his equipment grant. 


Inspired by Sylvester's collection, artists and poets are working with the University of Oxford's Mathematical Institute to create an exhibition which will be held in the new Mathematical Institute, the Andrew Wiles Building. The exhibition, Illegitimate Objects, will run from 18 September to 12 November 2015, Monday to Friday 9am-5pm. Admission is free.



Monday, 7 September 2015

Ada Lovelace Symposium - celebrating the 200th birthday of a computer visionary

When you think about the founders of computing you may think Alan Turing, you may even think Charles Babbage. But you should definitely think about Ada Lovelace. Ada is not only the link between Babbage and Turing, but a woman of fierce originality and intellectual interests whose ideas went beyond Babbage’s ideas of computers as manipulating numbers, and focused on their creative possibilities and their limits, the very issues with which we are wrestling today.

In 2015 the University of Oxford will celebrate the 200th anniversary of Ada’s birth.  The centrepiece of the celebrations will be a display at the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library (13 October – 18 December 2015) and a Symposium (9 and 10 December 2015), presenting Lovelace’s life and work, and contemporary thinking on computing and artificial intelligence.

Ada, Countess of Lovelace (1815–1852), is best known for her remarkable article about Charles Babbage’s unbuilt computer, the Analytical Engine. The article presented the first documented computer program, to calculate the Bernoulli numbers, and explained the ideas underlying Babbage’s  machine – and every one of the billions of computers and computer programs in use today. Her contribution was highlighted in one of Alan Turing’s most famous papers ‘Can a machine think?’ Lovelace had wide scientific and intellectual interests and studied with scientist Mary Somerville, and with Augustus De Morgan, a leading mathematician and pioneer in logic and algebra.

The display, in the Bodleian’s new Weston Library, will offer a chance to see Lovelace’s correspondence with Babbage and De Morgan, and her childhood exercises and mathematical notes.   It features a remarkable new discovery in the archives -  Lovelace and Babbage working together on magic squares and network algorithms – the dawn of “computational thinking.”

The Symposium, on 9th and 10th December 2015, is aimed at a broad audience interested in the history and culture of mathematics and computer science, presenting current scholarship on Lovelace’s life and work, and linking her ideas to contemporary thinking about computing and artificial intelligence. It is a truly interdisciplinary event, and confirmed speakers so far include Lovelace’s direct descendant the Earl of Lytton, Lovelace biographer Betty Toole, computer historian Doron Swade, historian Richard Holmes, computer scientist Moshe Vardi and graphic novelist Sydney Padua. Oxford researchers Christopher Hollings and Ursula Martin will present their new research on Lovelace’s mathematics.

Oxford has a remarkable history of programming research, with two winners of the ACM A M Turing Award, the Nobel Prize for Computer Science, and the unique breadth and depth of Oxford’s expertise brings a variety of perspectives to understanding Lovelace and the remarkable intellectual community around her, visionaries whose ideas underpin modern computing.

For more details about the celebrations:

Twitter: #lovelaceoxford

Image reproduced by permission of Pollinger Limited ( on behalf of the estate of Ada Lovelace.

You may also be interested in a BBC4 film about the life of Ada Lovelace, to be broadcast at 9pm on 17 September and Radio 4 will feature readings from Lovelace’s letters at 11 am on 14 and 21 September.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Scientists, Medics and Mathematicians get to work on the mysteries of the Human Brain

Collaboration may have a claim to being the most overused word in academia (and one or two other places as well), but as the world accumulates more and more data and is able to study mechanisms and organisms at an ever smaller scale, then it is inevitable that more than one expertise is needed to describe the full story.

The International Brain Mechanics and Trauma Lab, based in Oxford, encapsulates that joining together of minds, recognising the absolute need for world-class institutions to collaborate on complex issues.

26 Academics from across Engineering, Mathematics and the Physical and Medical Sciences in Oxford and beyond are combining their experience and skills to understand the human brain, how it operates at the tiniest level and how that action affects its response to trauma and injury. This film demonstrates the ambition and potential of the collaboration in addressing the complexity inherent in studying brain trauma and disease, perhaps one of the greatest challenges of our century.


Monday, 20 July 2015

How do networks shape the spread of disease and gossip?

A new approach to exploring the spread of contagious diseases or the latest celebrity gossip has been tested using London’s street and underground networks. Results from the new approach could help to predict when a contagion will spread through space as a simple wave (as in the Black Death) and when long-range connections, such as air travel, enable it to seemingly jump over long distances and emerge in locations far from an initial outbreak.

A team of Oxford Mathematicians together with colleagues from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Rutgers University used a set of mathematical rules to encode how a contagion spreads, and they used diverse mathematical and computational tools to study outcomes of these rules.

The researchers explored how disease or gossip might spread through London's transit network. Specifically, they illustrated how the street network overlaid with the London Underground network enables contagions to hop to a distant location. To analyse the behaviour of a contagion, the researchers drew on ideas from ‘topology’, a branch of mathematics used to characterise the structure of complex shapes. By studying the ‘shape’ of the data that results from a contagion, it is possible to distinguish between contagions that take long-distance hops across a network and those that exhibit a local (and slower) wave-like spreading pattern.

This ‘computational topology’ technique has the potential to overcome many of the barriers to extracting useful information from big, ‘noisy’ data sets, such as those gathered during a disease epidemic or from gossip spreading over social media. Computational topology could, for example, yield insights into how fast a new contagion might spread or where it might emerge next.

A report of the research is published in the journal Nature Communications.

"Underlying spatial networks have a big influence over how diseases or information spread, but in our ever-more-connected world, there are numerous ‘shortcuts’ that these can take that makes their spreading patterns difficult to predict," said Professor Mason Porter (an author of the report) of the University of Oxford’s Mathematical Institute. "Our work shows a way to reconcile a wave-like model of spreading, which might approximate what happens at a local level, with behaviour that includes shortcuts to distant locations."

To investigate how networks influence spreading processes, the team ran hundreds of scenarios. They considered various subtly different network structures, which encapsulate which ‘nodes’ (representing, for example, people or locations) are directly reachable from each other through a single short-range or long-range connection.

In some scenarios, nodes can be ‘stubborn’ and resist a new infection or idea; but in others, they are not stubborn at all and quickly succumb to a contagion. The team found that the shape of how a contagion spreads is very sensitive to how inclined nodes are to adopt the contagion. Dr Heather Harrington, another author from the Mathematical Institute in Oxford, said “If nodes are very stubborn, a contagion doesn’t spread much at all; whereas if they are compliant, the contagion quickly crops up all over the network. When the nodes are moderately stubborn—a so called ‘sweet spot’—a contagion tends to spread gradually as a wave."

Professor Porter said: "In other situations, when different nodes have different levels of stubbornness, and if we otherwise make the model more complicated, we still observe both wave-like and shortcut ‘hopping’ behaviour, although naturally the results are messier."

By varying the location of the initial outbreak on a given network and tracking exactly who gets infected at what time (and stacking these layers of information on top of one another), the researchers constructed a mathematical object that they call a ‘contagion map’.

Using methods from computational topology to examine the shape of the data encompassed by the contagion map, the researchers looked for ‘holes’ in the data. "You can think of it like looking for the hole in a doughnut shape that enables us to distinguish it from a sphere," said Professor Porter. In simple scenarios, the approach can distinguish between a ‘real’ hole – which could represent where infections tend not to spread over shortcuts between distant locales – and a ‘false’ hole that arises from noise in the data (such that long-range spread could still be common). As the deluge of data gets ever deeper, developing tools that can distinguish genuine features from noise in large, intricate data sets is becoming increasingly important.

Professor Porter said: "Our work illustrates that these topological methods could be useful in a range of different scenarios. It’s a good example of how pure mathematics and applied mathematics are increasingly working together."

In addition to Porter and Harrington, the research team included postgraduate student Florian Klimm from Oxford’s Mathematical Institute, Dr Dane Taylor and Prof. Peter Mucha from University of North Carolina at Chapell Hill, and Dr Miroslav Kramár and Prof. Konstantin Mischaikow from Rutgers University. Taylor and Klimm are joint lead authors of the study.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015
Tuesday, 14 July 2015

National Portrait Gallery unveils portrait of Andrew Wiles

A newly commissioned portrait of Sir Andrew Wiles, the Oxford Mathematician, has been unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery. The four-by-three foot portrait is by London artist Rupert Alexander, who has painted the Queen and members of the Royal Family.   

Artist Rupert Alexander says: ‘I wanted to convey the cerebral world Sir Andrew inhabits, but rather than doing so by furnishing the composition with books or the obligatory blackboard of equations, I tried to imply it simply through the light and atmosphere. Mathematics appears to me an austere discipline, so casting him in a cool, blue light seemed apt.’

Sir Andrew Wiles by Rupert Alexander is on display in Room 38 at the National Portrait Gallery from Tuesday 14 July, Admission free.