Today the UK funding bodies have published the results of the UK’s most recent national research assessment exercise, the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021.
Research from the Mathematical Institute and the Department of Statistics in Oxford was submitted together under Unit of Assessment 10. Overall, 78% of our submission was judged to be 4* (the highest score available, given for research quality that is world-leading in terms of originality, significance, and rigour).
In a joint statement, the two heads of department, Mike Giles (Mathematical Institute) and Alison Etheridge (Department of Statistics) said:
"This outstanding result is a testament to the breadth, quality and impact of the research produced by colleagues in our two departments, and the outstanding environment in which they work, supported by our excellent professional services staff. We'd like to thank everyone involved in sustaining Oxford Mathematical Sciences, especially those who worked tirelessly in the preparation of the REF2021 submission."
Among the highlights of the research impact case studies we submitted are:
Fernando Alday (pictured left) is an Argentinean Theoretical Physicist and Mathematician, Rouse-Ball Professor of Mathematics and Head of the Mathematical Physics Group in Oxford, and a fellow of Wadham College. He did his undergraduate at Centro Atomico Bariloche, Argentina, and his DPhil at SISSA, Italy, under the supervision of Edi Gava and Kumar Narain. He joined Oxford in 2010, after doing Postdocs at Utrecht University in the Netherlands and at the Institute for Advanced Study in the US.
Fernando is well-known for the development of mathematical tools to understand fundamental questions in Quantum Field Theory and Quantum Gravity. His most important contributions involve surprising dualities among different theories and observables in high energy theoretical physics. One of these dualities relates scattering amplitudes to minimal surfaces/soap bubbles in anti-de-Sitter space, while another, known as the AGT correspondence, relates correlation functions in a two-dimensional theory to the spectrum of four-dimensional gauge theories. More recently, Fernando has been developing mathematical tools to compute string and M-theory amplitudes in curved space-time, a subject still in its infancy.
Alain Goriely is a mathematician with broad interests in mathematical methods, mechanics, sciences, and engineering. He is well known for his contributions to fundamental and applied solid mechanics, and, in particular, for the development of a mathematical theory of biological growth, culminating with his seminal monograph The Mathematics on Mechanics of Biological Growth (2017).
He received his PhD from the University of Brussels in 1994 where he became a lecturer. In 1996, he joined the University of Arizona where he established a research group within the renowned Program of Applied Mathematics. In 2010, he joined the University of Oxford as the inaugural Statutory Professor of Mathematical Modelling and fellow of St. Catherine’s College. He is currently the Director of the Oxford Centre for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (OCIAM).
In addition, Alain enjoys scientific outreach based on problems connected to his research, including tendril perversion in plants, twining plants, umbilical cord knotting, whip cracking, the shape of seashells, brain modelling. He is the author of a Very Short Introduction to Applied Mathematics (2017).
Oxford Mathematics now has 31 Fellows of the Royal Society among its current and retired members: John Ball, Bryan Birch, Martin Bridson, Philip Candelas, Marcus du Sautoy, Artur Ekert, Alison Etheridge, Ian Grant, Ben Green, Roger Heath-Brown, Nigel Hitchin, Ehud Hrushovski, Ioan James, Dominic Joyce, Jon Keating, Frances Kirwan, Terry Lyons, Philip Maini, Vladimir Markovic, Jim Murray, John Ockendon, Roger Penrose, Jonathan Pila, Graeme Segal, Endre Süli, Martin Taylor, Ulrike Tillmann, Nick Trefethen, Andrew Wiles, and Fernando and Alain of course.
The eleventh annual two and a half day conference held alternately in Oxford and Cambridge, and focusing on partial differential equations and analysis, took place this year on 11-13th April in the Mathematical Institute in Oxford.
You can now watch (or dip in to) all 18 talks from a range of speakers, local, national & international, including Oxford Mathematician Catalina Pesce, a third-year DPhil student at the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Partial Differential Equations: Analysis and Applications. In the image Catalina is taking questions at the end of her talk (and doing a little maths in the process).
The European Research Council today announced the winners of its 2021 Advanced Grants competition and Oxford Mathematician Stuart White was one of four awardees from the University of Oxford for his CSTAR project. Just 14% of applications for grants were successful this year - 253 researchers from across the sciences and humanities received awards out of more than 1,700 proposals. Only nine of those 253 were mathematicians.
Stuart's project focuses on the structure and classification of operator algebras. Classification problems are fundamental in mathematics: how do we decide when two things are the same? Examples include the classification of orientable closed surfaces by their genus (the number of 'holes’). So to decide when two such surfaces are homeomorphic (roughly speaking that one can be deformed into the other), one simply checks if they have the same number of holes. The classification questions at the heart of this proposal are for C*-algebras, which can be viewed as non-commutative versions of topological spaces. These are abstract functional analytic objects, with origins in the mathematical formalism of quantum mechanics. A central theme of Stuart’s research is the transfer of ideas between non-commutative measure theory and topology, using results and techniques from Alain Connes’ classification of von Neumann algebras in the 1970s in the setting of C*-algebras.
Stuart says of his award: "I’m really honoured that this project has been selected for funding by the ERC, showing their commitment to fundamental mathematical research, and I’m really excited about building a world class team of postdoctoral researchers and graduate students in operator algebras in Oxford to deliver the goals of the project."
Stuart White did undergraduate study at Jesus College, Cambridge and a PhD at Edinburgh followed by positions at Glasgow University. In 2019 he came to Oxford where he is Professor of Mathematics and Tutorial Fellow, St John's College. In 2021 he was awarded the Whitehead Prize by the London Mathematical Society and in July 2022 will be an invited speaker at the International Congress of Mathematics.
Funded through the European Union, ERC Advanced Grants are designed to support excellent scientists and scholars in any field at the career stage when they are already established research leaders, with a recognised track record of research achievements. ERC funding is for 5 years for a new research project (though of course built on work started previously). The holding of ERC awards by researchers based at UK institutions is subject to formalisation of the UK’s association to Horizon Europe, which remains the stated priority for the UK government, in line with the Trade and Cooperation Agreement agreed between the UK and the EU in December 2020. In the event that association is not confirmed by the final date for signature of grant agreements then the UK government’s Horizon Europe funding guarantee will apply, with UK awardees receiving equivalent funding via UKRI.
We are delighted that after a two-year hiatus, in-person Oxford Mathematics Public Lectures are back and, as you can see, we are starting in style. Full details below.
Oxford Mathematics Public Lecture
Communicating Complex Statistical Ideas to the Public: Lessons from the Pandemic - David Spiegelhalter
Thursday 12 May 2022
5.00-6.00pm, Mathematical Institute, Oxford
The pandemic has demonstrated how important data becomes at a time of crisis. But statistics are tricky: they don't always mean what we think they mean, there are many subtle pitfalls, and some people misrepresent their message. Their interpretation is an art. David will describe efforts at communicating about statistics during the pandemic, including both successes and dismal failures.
Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter FRS OBE is Chair of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication at the University of Cambridge, which aims to improve the way that statistical evidence is used by health professionals, patients, lawyers and judges, media and policy-makers. He has been very busy over the Covid crisis. His bestselling book, The Art of Statistics, was published in March 2019, and Covid by Numbers came out in October 2021. He was knighted in 2014 for services to medical statistics.
Congratulations to Oxford Mathematicians Roisin Stephens and Giulia Laura Celora who won prizes for their talks at this year's British Applied Mathematics Colloquium (BAMC) and to Anna Berryman who was a prize winner in the poster category.
The BAMC is an annual event dating back to 1959 that has a central place in the UK Applied Mathematics calendar. It is one of the first places where PhD students and Early Career Researchers present their work, and where mathematicians across all career stages have a chance to actively interact with each other. It was held in person this year from 11-13 April at Loughborough University.
Did you know we have 70 Oxford Mathematics student lectures on our YouTube Channel that anyone can watch, from introductory 1st year lectures on Complex Numbers (pictured), Calculus and Dynamics, to more advanced 2nd year lectures on Graph Theory, Linear Algebra and Probability, to specialist 3rd & 4th year lectures on the Geometry of Surfaces, Set Theory and Networks?
Anyone can watch or just drop in to find out how we do things, both in person and, during Covid, online.
All first and second year lectures are followed by tutorials where students meet their tutor to go through the lecture and associated problem sheet and to talk and think more about the maths. Third and fourth year lectures are followed by classes.
The André–Oort conjecture is a problem in Diophantine geometry, a branch of number theory. In 2011, Jonathan gave an unconditional proof of the André–Oort conjecture in the case of arbitrary products of modular curves, using the Pila-Wilkie point-counting theorem based on the theory of o-minimality. This was the first unconditional case of the conjecture beyond André's 1998 result for products of two modular curves. Over the subsequent decade, the strategy was implemented in general, in the work of many people, with a full proof of the conjecture announced in 2021 by Pila-Shankar-Tsimerman.
Jonathan Pila is Reader in Mathematical Logic and Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, and a Fellow of the Royal Society. Born in Melbourne, he received his PhD from Stanford University in 1988 under the supervision of Peter Sarnak. He held posts at Columbia University, McGill University, and the University of Bristol, as well as visiting positions at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton.
The Rolf Schock Prizes were established and endowed by bequest of philosopher and artist Rolf Schock (1933–1986). There are prizes in Logic and Philosophy, Mathematics, Visual Arts and Musical Arts. They are decided by the respective Swedish Academies.
Background Among the many asylum and sanctuary seekers and academics seeking refuge are mathematicians and statisticians; they are part of the global mathematical sciences community. However, when they come to the UK they may be unable to work and so feel isolated from the subject they love. They are in personal and intellectual limbo.
Concerned and inspired by this predicament, a group of mathematicians at Oxford university decided to find ways to help these refugees overcome that sense of isolation and make them aware of mathematical science-based activities in the UK, both in research and teaching, and industry. The aim was for them to re-establish an emotional contact with their own mathematical pedigrees and their own identities as qualified mathematicians for however long they remain isolated; and ultimately to enable them to contribute to the social and economic growth of the UK.
What we are doing The vehicle for doing this was occasional informal online sessions. Initially the team partnered in 2021 with the Oxford charity Asylum Welcome to run two pilot Zoom sessions for mathematically qualified or maths-literate refugees and asylum seekers in the Oxford area. The target audience was people with some degree-level maths or maths related subjects who can find value in presentations and discussions about what is going on within various areas of mathematical sciences.
This initiative built on work elsewhere in Oxford to support asylum seekers and refugees, and in particular Mansfield and Somerville Colleges becoming University Colleges of Sanctuary. Content from Oxford Mathematics Professors Pete Grindrod, Ian Griffiths and Sam Cohen covered a range of mathematical research fields, as well as information about the wider UK mathematical community and some specifics of how people seeking refuge might pursue maths-based careers in the UK, including in data science and statistics, different industry sectors, education and teaching.
The National plan The project is partnering with the Universities of Sanctuary initiative and Cara (the Council for At-Risk Academics) to identify suitable people and open the sessions to them wherever they may be in the UK. The first more national session was held on 28th February with two more to follow in the Summer. In February we covered topics such as “Opportunities for maths based scientists with UK Corporates”, “Resources to learn about Data Science” and “Industrial applications of Maths Skills”. Judging by the feedback from participants there is real interest and demand; we will use comments we have received to inform the design of future sessions.
How to sign up If you are a refugee, asylum seeker or academic seeking refuge with a good proficiency (upper intermediate) in conversational English and a maths, or maths-related degree including subjects such as physics, engineering, statistics or computer science, and would like to attend these sessions, please e-mail @email We will then ask you to fill in a short form with a view to registering you for future sessions.
Looking to the future Oxford Mathematics believes its initiative may well be a first for the UK mathematical sciences community and we aim expand it in time, to include the UK’s professional and learned societies, and involve mathematicians from other Higher Education Institutions. We hope that through working together with Cara and the Universities of Sanctuary initiative other disciplines may well follow suit and adopt this outreach model.
You can watch those involved in the scheme talk about its genesis, progress and possibilities in the video below. If you want to know more or get involved, please email: @email