Maths at the Cambridge Science Festival

Science festival

The Cambridge Science Festival will kick off on March 9, and there is some great maths in the programme. Here are some maths-related events we are particularly excited about (in chronological order). Click on the links for price, booking and location information. For the full programme visit the festival website. And if you can't make it to Cambridge, then read the Plus articles by some of the speakers, linked to from the individual entries.

  • Colour, new dimensions and the geometry of physics (March 10, 5pm - 6pm) — Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek talks about his work on finding a theory that explains all the fundamental forces and particles we see, and his popular book The lightness of being. To find out more about Wilczek's fascinating research, read the Plus article Strong but free.
  • Order out of chaos (March 11, 6pm - 7pm) — Imre Leader explores how order can be found in chaos, as long as there is enough of it. Leader is a great speaker and the topic's very accessible. Find out more in this video or this Plus article.
  • Let Newton be! (March 11, 7:30pm - 9:30pm public performance, 2:30pm - 4:30pm schools performance) — This play brings the complex and controversial character of Sir Isaac Newton to life: a devout, difficult, obsessive man who sought and found god in universal laws of light and motion. Theatrical, entertaining and informative, the play explores the life and thought of a genius whose scientific theories still provide the foundations for our understanding of the Universe today.
  • Some essential links between maths and the arts (March 12, 5:30pm - 6:30pm) — John D. Barrow explores a range of links between mathematics and some of the arts; including Dali's use of 4D geometry, how fractals are used to distinguish abstract art works, the plan of the subterranean Tunnel of Eupalinos in 520BC, and how smooth curves inform Henry Moore's stringed sculptures. For a taster, read Barrow's Plus article Where to stand to look at sculptures.
  • Enigma and the secret world of code breaking (March 14, 10:30am - 11:30am) — James Grime looks at the fascinating history and mathematics of codes and code breaking - from ancient Greece to the present day - including a demonstration of an original WWII Enigma Machine! For a brief introduction, see the Plus article Exploring the Enigma.
  • Don't believe this talk: maths that can't be true! (March 14, 2pm - 3pm) — Steve Mould looks at the maths that confounds our expectations and laughs in the face of our intuition. Find out how many numbers in the universe start with a 1, how to cheat on your homework and other mathematical surprises. (This event is fully booked but limited tickets are available on the day.)
  • Happy birthday, Fermat's last theorem (March 14, 3:30pm - 4:30pm) — Simon Singh, author of a book and director of a BBC documentary about Fermat's Last Theorem, celebrates the fact that it has been exactly twenty years since a proof was published. He will discuss the origin of the problem, describe the people who tried and failed to prove it, and tell the story of Professor Andrew Wiles, who conquered Fermat's challenge after working in secret for seven years. You can prepare yourself by reading about Fermat's last theorem on Plus. (This event is fully booked but limited tickets are available on the day.)
  • Illuminating statistics (March 14, 10am - 4pm) — The modern world is full of numbers. It is more important than ever that we know how to ask, answer and understand questions about public health in this sea of numbers and data. Come join the MRC Biostatistics Unit and take part in activities that will show how and what we can learn from numbers. For a brief intro, listen to our interview with Sheila Bird from the Biostatistics unit.
  • Seeing further than others: Isaac Newton's world of light and colour (March 14, 11am - 12:30pm) — Rob Iliffe, Director of the Isaac Newton Papers Project in the University of Sussex, talks about Newton's work on light and his great publication Opticks. The talk will be accompanied by a display of Newton's manuscripts from the University Library's treasured collections.
  • Stamping through mathematics (March 16, 6pm - 7pm) — Robin Wilson explores the entire history of mathematics in one hour, as illustrated by around 300 postage stamps featuring mathematics and mathematicians from across the world. From Euclid to Euler, from Pythagoras to Poincaré, and from Fibonacci to the Fields Medals, all are featured in attractive, charming and sometimes bizarre stamps. No particular knowledge of mathematics or philately required.
  • Sex by numbers: statistics of our intimate lives (March 18, 7:30pm - 8:30pm) — The latest survey of British sexual behaviour suggests that we are becoming more experimental in our sex lives, but there is less of it going on. David Spiegelhalter will look at sex statistics going back to 1580, show that more boys are born at the end of wars, and argue that this means sexual activity was at a historical minimum in 1898. (You can read David Spiegelhalter's column on Plus.)
  • El Niño: what on earth will happen next? (March 19, 5:50pm - 6:30pm) — El Niño events are the largest causes of year-to-year climate variability on a global scale, bringing floods to some regions and droughts to others. Join Michael Davey as he explains the phenomenon, explores the impacts, and describes how maths helps us understand how they occur and evolve.
  • Einstein's legacy: 100 years of general relativity (March 19, 7:45pm - 9pm) — 2015 is the 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein's full formulation of the theory of general relativity. This research fundamentally changed our concepts of space and time. John D Barrow and Ulrich Sperhake from the University of Cambridge and Michael Kramer from Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy and University of Manchester will discuss Einstein's legacy. You can read more about Einstein and his theories on Plus. (This event is fully booked but limited tickets are available on the day.)
  • Maths public open day (March 21, 12noon - 4pm) — Come and visit the home of Plus! From Isaac Newton onwards, Cambridge has been associated with some of the most famous mathematicians in history. Modern mathematicians and theoretical physicists work on everything from the Big Bang to prime numbers, fluid dynamics or investigating the spread of disease. Join the Plus editors, as well as students and staff from the Faculty of Mathematics, to explore the excitement of mathematics and theoretical physics through hands on activities, demonstrations and displays.
  • Thinking mathematically (March 21, 12:15pm - 1:15pm) — Join Charlie Gilderdale to work on some of his favourite mathematical problems from our sister site NRICH, and discover that everyone can think mathematically. Come prepared to explore, discuss, conjecture, question, explain and generalise!
  • The Large Hadron Collider and the dark matter mystery (March 21, 2pm - 3pm) — The Large Hadron Collider will start operation again at a higher energy at the beginning of 2015. Join Ben Allanach for an introduction to the machine, particle physics, the discovery of the Higgs boson, and what its observations tell us about the mysterious dark matter. For a brief intro, read Ben Allanach's Plus article Particle hunting at the LHC.
  • Why are stringed instruments so hard to play? (March 21, 6:30pm - 9:45pm) — The motion of a bowed violin string has been studied since the 19th century, and shows some quite unexpected behaviour. This talk by Jim Woodhouse, University of Cambridge Department of Engineering, will show some examples of how computer modelling combined with acoustic measurements can shed light on playability of bowed-string instruments. This talk is followed by a concert of works by Mussorgsky, Elgar and Tchaikovsky including the cello concerto by Elgar with soloist Olivia da Costa. To prepare, read Jim Woodhouse's Plus article Why is the violin so hard to play?.