Entrance hall of the ICMSPublic Events 2013

Maths of Planet Earth talks

In recent times, our public lectures have featured mathematicians and conference delegates from across the UK and further afield.  Now it is time to showcase talent nearer to home.

This Autumn/Winter,  we have 3 public talks from researchers/mathematicians based in Edinburgh.  These talks will be aimed for those aged 16+ and open to all regardless of background. This lecture series will tie in with Maths for Planet Earth 2013.

Each talk starts at 6pm and will take place in the Newhaven Lecture Theatre, ICMS, 15 South College Street, Edinburgh. Refreshments will be served afterwards.

  • Tue 15th October
    The mathematics of biodiversity
    Tom Leinster, University of Edinburgh, School of Mathematics
    The rapid decline in biodiversity now taking place is believed by some to be the start of one of the greatest mass extinctions in the history of life on earth.  Taking action on this requires not only political will, but also sound methods for quantifying and reasoning about diversity - because without them, we risk channelling conservation funds in the wrong directions.  Diversity matters not only for trees, birds, and so on, but also for invisible life such as the bacteria that live in your gut, and for designing effective vaccines against different strains of viruses - where we humans tend to think of diversity as bad, not good.  There are deep mathematical problems here, and solving them has involved some surprising branches of mathematics that are often seen as distant from any conceivable application.
  • Thursday 21st November
    History-dependence and tipping points in patterns of whole ecosystems
    Jonathan Sherratt, Heriot Watt University, School of Mathematics and Computer Science
    The natural world abounds with spatial patterns, and the very largest of these occur when an entire ecosystem is patterned. Examples include banded vegetation in sub-Saharan Africa, striped mussel beds in the Wadden Sea, ribbon forests in North America – and there are many others. In this talk I will review some of these patterns and discuss the way in which mathematical models are being used to understand the underlying mechanisms and to assess their vulnerability to environmental changes. I will focus primarily on the cases of banded vegetation in semi-deserts. I will explain how mathematicians have formulated theoretical models based on ecological data and hypotheses, and how these models can be used to predict the response of the patterns to environmental changes. One important finding that has emerged from work of this type is that as rainfall levels gradually decrease, there can be sudden shifts in pattern form, or even sudden shifts to full-blown desert. Changes of this type are known as "tipping points", and I will explain the theory behind them, and the way in which mathematics can provide clues to early warning signs of impending tipping points.
  • Tuesday 10th December
    Botanica Mathematica - a textile taxonomy of mathematical plants

    Julia Collins, University of Edinburgh, School of Mathematics and Madeleine Shepherd, ICMS Communications Officer
    Botanica Mathematica is a public participation art installation which uses textile crafts, predominantly knitting and crochet, to explore mathematical ideas and botanical forms. It was launched in January 2013 by Julia Collins and Madeleine Shepherd to mark the Year of Mathematics of Planet Earth and is now drawing to a close. In this talk Julia and Madeleine will discuss the ideas behind the patterns and show you some of the work that continues to arrive in Madeleine's studio. They'll also look at some of the trends arising as they begin to classify the specimens collected so far. Knitters in the UK, Europe and the USA have contributed their interpretations of the project's basic pattern, The Binary Bonsai. If you want to join them, visit the patterns and instructions section of botanicamathematica.wordpress.com and bring your work along to the talk. Knitting in the audience is permitted!

These talks are kindly sponsored by the Heriot Watt Principal’s Public Engagement Prize Fund. ICMS was awarded the team prize in 2012 for their diverse public engagement activities. 


Edinburgh International Science Festival

  •  It is impossible to have a science festival
    18.30 Monday 25th March
    Twenty five years after Edinburgh launched the first ever science festival, hundreds now take place – from Orkney to New York, from Shanghai to Abu Dhabi. They have had a major impact on public engagement in science, but what is a science festival? 
    This panel discussion was held at ICMS.
  • Surviving the next pandemic
    20.00 Tuesday 2nd April
    In this interactive event using reports from the 2003 SARS outbreak and swine flu pandemic of 2009, Déirdre Hollingsworth, an epidemiologist from Warwick University, explained how mathematics recommends that not everyone needs to be vaccinated and why being popular might be detrimental to your health!  
    This talk was held at the National Museum of Scotland. 
  • Edinburgh Mini Maker Faire
    10.00-17.00 Sunday 7th April
    Madeleine Shepherd (Communications, ICMS) and Julia Collins (Maths Outreach, UoE) had a stand at the Mini Maker Faire showcasing their Maths-of-Planet-Earth-inspired art project, Botanica Mathematica.  If you knit or crochet, you can be part of the ongoing project by making a tree for the Binary Bonsai Collection or a blossom for the Fibonacci Flower Garland. Bonsai knitting instructions are on the project website. Contact Madeleine or Julia directly if you’d like to contribute a piece to the final display. The Mini Maker Faire will took place at Summerhall.

Other activities

  • Doors Open Days
    We were open from 10.30-16.30 on 28th September 2013 for visitors to see how 15 South College Street has been converted from a traditional church to a modern conference centre while retaining many of the original features.  We also had hands on activities and a rolling programme of short films, again with a Mathematics of Planet Earth theme. Photos from the event are on the ICMS Flickr page (see also Doors Open Days website for more on the other buildings taking part)
  • Why do things change so fast? Tipping points in life and nature
    A Mathematics of Planet Earth public lecture, 6pm Wednesday 11 September
    The speaker is Professor Chris Budd, University of Bath who writes, "It is a Chinese curse that you should 'live in interesting times'. These are times when things are changing quickly, and often not for the better. But why do we have both boring times when nothing much happens and interesting times with a lot of change. In this talk I will look at why things can change quickly and why this matters. I will look at examples including power cuts, climate change and events from history. The lecture will, quite literally, upset the apple cart."
    (part of the workshop on Tipping Point Theory)
  • The lure of singularity theory Public lecture, 6pm, Wednesday 4 September
    The speaker is Professor Donal O'Shea, New College of Florida, who writes,"Singularity theory is the area of mathematics that models discontinuous change.  In the first week of September, mathematicians from around the world will gather at ICMS in Edinburgh for a week to exchange new results in the field.  It is always fun to talk about new knowledge, but what actually draws them to the field?  Some say the applications.  But, as important as they are, they are not the real lure.  Rather singularity theory knits together the oldest concepts in our civilization in surprising, and very beautiful, ways.  It is this that ensnares mathematicians, and it is about this that I shall talk."
    (part of the workshop Singularities in geometry and applications III)
  • Down the rabbit hole:
     the science and technology
     of molecular engineering
    18.00 Tuesday 18th June
    Public lecture by Jason Reese, Weir Professor of Thermodynamics & Fluid Mechanics, University of Strathclyde
    What do avalanches, traffic, fluids in nanotubes, and the aerodynamics of space shuttles have in common? While we could see each of these as a "flow" (of cars, snow, air etc.), they are not flows in the same sense that, say, water flows out of a tap. So what is the difference, and why is it important? The problem is that fluid dynamics - the study of flowing material - was mainly developed to understand flows in weirs, dams and pumps. While it is excellent for designing ships, aeroplanes and heart valves, modern engineers need to take into account that fluids are "granular" at the smallest scales - even down to the molecules the fluid is made of. This talk describes how a curious physics experiment in the 19th century lays the foundation for some 21st century technologies. Examples include using carbon nanotubes for seawater desalination, and the aerodynamics of space vehicles.
  • Valknut Challenge at Museum Lates
    19.00 Friday 17th February
    In collaboration with Maths Outreach at University of Edinburgh, ICMS presented a puzzle challenge activity at the National Museum of Scotland's Museum Late event. The theme for the evening was Vikings! and so the activity was based on the Valknut, a braided structure in Viking art and the earliest representation of the Borromean Rings.
  • Late Lab, Patterns in Nature
    Thursday 31st January
    Botanica Mathematica (see Science Festival section, right) was launched during one of three short presentations at this informal "science cabaret" and interactive evening at Inspace, University of Edinburgh. 
  • Primes and Zeros: A million dollar mystery
    Thursday 24th January
    Public Lecture by Brian Conrey, American Institute of Mathematics
    More than 150 years ago Riemann formulated what is widely regarded today as the most famous unsolved problem in all of mathematics. This talk looked at some of the colourful history and stories about this problem.