Oxford Cambridge Applied Maths Meeting (aka The Woolly Owl)

A Brief History of the Woolly Owl

In 1983, OCIAM was but a dream, and the Cambridge Department of Applied Maths and Theoretical Physics ruled the world in many areas of applied mathematics.  The new DAMTP Director was David Crighton, and he and John Ockendon hatched the plan of having biennial Oxford/Cambridge meetings, really just to tell the applied mathematicians what was going on in the other place.  Light blue applied maths in those days was mostly fluid mechanics, an area that sometimes featured in the meeting title, but Oxford was more catholic and involved people from the Computing Laboratory (then dominated by Numerical Analysis) and Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics as well as the Maths Institute.

In the beginning the speakers ranged from luminaries like George Batchelor to nascent HOD’s like Sam Howison.  The distinctive features have always been talks of equal length and no-holds-barred savaging of speakers.  The presentations grew shorter as the event gained credence and popularity, and OCIAM’s first Director, Alan Tayler made a brave effort to curb this trend by grouping five-minute presentations under the eye of a moderator.  Alas, this led to discord, and slowly everyone realised that young people were the only ones that really mattered, and thus it has remained for 20 years.

The other major change was made by G.I. Barenblatt (Grisha the Bear) in 1999, when he suggested that the event should become a beauty contest between the two universities.  This idea was warmly welcomed, but who should judge and what should be the prize?  The former problem was temporarily solved by picking two of the current senior visitors to each Department.  Alas, this introduced some unreliability and raising of eyebrows, and hence the current practice of using senior UK academics who are just as likely to hate/love Cambridge as Oxford.

The prize itself came from Joan Cook, a wonderful tea-lady in the Maths Institute who knitted owls on the side.  Cambridge are only slowly warming to the appropriateness of this trophy (you can see from here what warming means in this context and possible reasons for their umbrage).


So, we now seem to have a permanent fixture that meets with strong approval from both universities (even including Stephen Cowley) and does much to open young researchers’ eyes to the wonderful breadth of applied mathematics.



Previous meetings

  • 2015 (at Mathematical Institute, Oxford) - Cambridge won - details available here

  • 2013 (at DAMTP) - Oxford won - details available here 

  • 2011 (at Mathematical Insitute, Oxford) - Oxford won - details available here

  • 2009 (at DAMTP) - Cambridge won - details available here

  • 2007 (at OCIAM) - Oxford won - details available here

  • 2005 (at DAMTP) - Oxford won - details available here

  • 2003 (at OCIAM) - Oxford won

  • 2001 (at DAMTP) - Cambridge won

  • 1999 (at OCIAM) - Cambridge won