Entrance hall of the ICMSNew Scientist Live - An Occasional Blog by Dawn Wasley, Knowledge Transfer Officer

When Jane Leeks of the Turing Gateway for Mathematics contacted me back in the spring to ask whether ICMS wanted to participate in New Scientist Live, I must confess I was a bit sceptical. She then explained the vision of bringing different organisations, who support the mathematical sciences across the mathematical sciences across the UK, together on a single stand to showcase mathematics and highlight its relevance to the modern world.  Before long, Isaac Newton Institute (INI), Knowledge Transfer Network for Industrial Maths (KTN), The Operational Research Society (OR Society) and the Institute for Mathematics and its Applications (IMA) and ICMS were all on board.  Clearly Jane’s persuasive powers are not to be underestimated!

Next thing I knew it was mid-September and the show was about to happen.  As the event approached, I decided what was needed was an activity.  I spoke with Chris Budd, Professor of Applied Mathematics at the University of Bath and head of ICMS Public Engagement Advisory Committee, and he suggested what I needed was puzzles/maths challenges that would appeal to all, but particularly the 8-12 year old age group.  Taking inspiration from some photos I’d seen on the Maths Week Scotland Twitter feed, I made a trip to the local hardware store and bought lots of sweets.  Our activity was ready and, in theory, so was I.

On arrival at New Scientist Live I passed a Virtual Reality Rollercoaster ride, Pepper the humanoid social robot and a drone building workshop on my way to the Mathematics in the Real World Stand.  I must confess, I was slightly concerned that our activity was a bit low-tech for the New Scientist Live audience.  My stand colleagues had also come prepared, the KTN had brought a code breaking challenge, the OR Society had a bin packing optimisation game.  There was a quiz encouraging people to find out more about each organisation and we had puzzles, pens, keyrings, pencils and rulers to give away. 

Before the show opened we were visited by a member of the New Scientist Team who gave us a pep talk, advised us to keep hydrated, look after our feet and have strepsils on hand to cope with the sore throats from all the talking.  This seemed a bit of overkill, we were going to be on a stand for several days, not undertaking an ultra-marathon.  Besides which, anyone who knows me will testify I can chat! How much extra talking could there actually be?


Calm on the stand before the doors opened

Busy stand just after doors opened

The popularity of the stand went way beyond my expectations, with visitors spending a long time finding out about the different organisations and trying out the different activities.  Having joked that we’d all brought far too much stuff and we’d be taking it all back with us, we ended up having to limit the number of puzzle cubes we handed out, as at one point it looked like there may not be any left for the Sunday.  We reckon, between us we handed out almost 15000 items! 

Keyrings, pens, puzzle cubes, rulers, pencils, maps and bookmarks

The quiz was a huge hit with well over 350 entries.  Many visitors commented that there was so much to do on the stand and they enjoyed hearing how maths was used in everyday life.   The KTN and INI had invited colleagues/collaborators along to talk about their research and provide demonstrations of how it works.  These proved hugely popular.

Juntao Lai, and Yang Zhang from UCL SpaceTimeLab should how Twitter data, Oyster Card data, and crime statistics could be used to provide actionable insight for users as diverse as law enforcement, advertising and traffic management.

Lewis Griffin and Mathew Caldwell from UCL Vision and Imaging Science group demonstrated their T-TRIG funded work on aviation security. Fusing automatic detection algorithms, 3D scans and VR exploration, the demo showed how airport security could be augmented with cutting edge technology.

UCL Vision and Imaging Science group's VR demonstration of airport security equipment

Researchers from the INI  Growth form and self-organisation research programme gave a demonstration involving viscosity through fluids.  The set up required 40 litres of golden syrup!

demonstrating varying viscosity through 40 litres of golden syrup

It may not have been a virtual reality rollercoaster but the maths puzzles were a big hit.  We had queues for the whole show and had to do daily trips to top up on sweets. I lost count of the number of young visitors who said they were thinking about following maths as a career, but even more pleasing were those who came to the stand claiming to be ‘rubbish at maths’, who ended up fist pumping when they solved the challenges. 

 Puzzles and workings

One of the hidden benefits was getting to know the fellow participants better.  At ICMS, we’ve been collaborating with the KTN, TGM and INI but working at the show strengthened those existing links.   It was great to meet people from the OR Society and IMA .  Particularly the OR Society, as we are talking about advertising ICMS events and calls for proposals in their newsletters as a result. 

There was fun to be had too. We made a collective decision to volunteer INI Director, David Abrahams to help visitors with their maths homework.  Not sure what David made of it, but we were delighted to see schoolchildren taking up the offer.

David Abrahams helping Gabriella with her quadratic equations homework

So in summary, New Scientist Live 2017 lots of fun, incredibly busy, and a great opportunity to promote mathematics in the UK.  So, if Jane from the TGM phones you up with a great idea, I suggest you pay attention.  Now, where did I put those strepsils?


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