The magical maze

Share this page
January 1998

The Royal Institution of Great Britain traditionally celebrates Christmas by inviting young students to a set of lectures given by a famous scientist. This year it was the turn of Ian Stewart, a professor of mathematics at the University of Warwick, to talk about "The Magical Maze: The Natural World and the Mathematical Mind". The lectures were broadcast during the Christmas holidays by the BBC.

The lectures set out to answer the question "What is mathematics?". According to Ian Stewart it's a maze. PASS Maths readers may already be familiar with some of the topics found in the maze. In the first lecture the audience was invited to count the number of petals on a sunflower; how many are there? (See "The life and numbers of Fibonacci" in Issue No. 3.)

Mathematics can help us find the answers to lots of questions - and can help us ask some that we never even thought of. What have cockroaches and horses got in common? What's the difference between random and chaotic? And why does Ian Stewart wear odd socks? Sneaky readers may even have found the answer to this issue's puzzle.

You can read more about the Royal Institution Christmas lectures from the following web sites:

  • Want facts and want them fast? Our Maths in a minute series explores key mathematical concepts in just a few words.