Oxford Mathematics Public Lectures

We run regular Public Lectures that enable anyone with an interest in the subject to see the best mathematicians in action and to share the pleasure (and occasional pain) of this most important of subjects. For booking information please click on the abstract for each lecture.

If you can't be here in person you can always view online. Jump down to Public Lectures and interviews online.

You can view and download posters from previous events.

9 May 2017

Meteorologist Ed Lorenz was one of the founding fathers of chaos theory. In 1963, he showed with just three simple equations that the world around us could be both completely deterministic and yet practically unpredictable. More than this, Lorenz discovered that this behaviour arose from a beautiful fractal geometric structure residing in the so-called state space of these equations. In the 1990s, Lorenz’s work was popularised by science writer James Gleick. In his book Gleick used the phrase “The Butterfly Effect” to describe the unpredictability of Lorenz’s equations. The notion that the flap of a butterfly’s wings could change the course of future weather was an idea that Lorenz himself used in his outreach talks.

However, Lorenz used it to describe something much more radical than can be found in his three simple equations. Lorenz didn’t know whether the Butterfly Effect, as he understood it, was true or not. In fact, it lies at the heart of one of the Clay Mathematics Millennium Prize problems, and is still an open problem today. In this talk I will discuss Lorenz the man, his background and his work in the 1950s and 1960s, and will compare and contrast the meaning of the “Butterfly Effect" as most people understand it today, and as Lorenz himself intended it to mean. The implications of the “Real Butterfly Effect" for understanding the predictability of nonlinear multi-scale systems (such as weather and climate) will be discussed. No technical knowledge of the field is assumed. 

Please email external-relations@maths.ox.ac.uk to register

Further reading:
T.N.Palmer, A. Döring and G. Seregin (2014): The Real Butterfly Effect. Nonlinearity, 27, R123-R141.

11 May 2017
Marcus du Sautoy

Symmetry has played a critical role both for composers and in the creation of musical instruments. From Bach’s Goldberg Variations to Schoenberg’s Twelve-tone rows, composers have exploited symmetry to create variations on a theme. But symmetry is also embedded in the very way instruments make sound. The lecture will culminate in a reconstruction of nineteenth-century scientist Ernst Chladni's exhibition that famously toured the courts of Europe to reveal extraordinary symmetrical shapes in the vibrations of a metal plate.

The lecture will be preceded by a demonstration of the Chladni plates with the audience encouraged to participate. Each of the 16 plates will have their own dials to explore the changing input and can accommodate 16 players at a time. Participants will be able to explore how these shapes might fit together into interesting tessellations of the plane. The ultimate idea is to create an aural dynamic version of the walls in the Alhambra.

The lecture will start at 5pm, but the demonstration will be available from 2.30pm.

Please email external-relations@maths.ox.ac.uk to register




Public Lectures Online

Why the truth matters - Tim Harford

The Mathematics of Visual Illusions - Ian Stewart

How can we uhderstand our complex economy - Doyne Farmer

Fashion, Faith and Fantasy - Roger Penrose

Modelling genes: the backwards and forwards of mathematical population genetics - Alsion Etheridge

What We Cannot Know - Marcus du Sautoy

The Travelling Santa Problem and Other Seasonal Challenges - Marcus du Sautoy

Symmetry, Spaces and Undecidability - Martin Bridson

M.C. Escher: Artist, Mathematician, Man - Roger Penrose and Jon Chapman

Dancing VorticesÉtienne Ghys

The Gömböc, the Turtle and the Evolution of Shape Professor Gábor Domokos

Birth of an Idea: A Mathematical Adventure - Professor Cédric Villani

The History of Mathematics in 300 Stamps - Professor Robin Wilson

What Maths Really Does - Professor Alain Goriely

Forbidden Crystal Symmetry - Sir Roger Penrose

Big Data's Big Deal - Professor Viktor Mayer-Schonberger

Love and Math - Professor Edward Frenkel

Why there are no three-headed monsters, resolving some problems with brain tumours, divorce prediction and how to save marriages - Professor James D Murray

The Irrational, the chaotic and incomplete: the mathematical limits of knowledge - Professor Marcus du Sautoy

The Secret Mathematicians: the connections between maths and the arts - Professor Marcus du Sautoy

Symmetry: a talk based on his second book, 'Finding Moonshine'  - Professor Marcus du Sautoy

The Music of the Primes: a talk about the Riemann Hypothesis and primes - Professor Marcus du Sautoy

Interviews with Mathematicians

Nigel Hitchin reflects with Martin Bridson


Roger Heath-Brown in conversation with Ben Green


Roger Penrose interviewed by Andrew Hodges – part one


Roger Penrose interviewed by Andrew Hodges – part two


Michael Atiyah interviewed by Paul Tod


Jim Murray interviewed by Philip Maini


Bryce McLeod Interviewed by John Ball