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Oxford University Hosts Maths conference

08 July 2016

On April 13th Mrs Rouan and Mrs Cologne-Brookes took a group of 15 Year 9 students to a Girls' Maths Conference at the University of Oxford. Set in the new Andrew Wyles Building, we were given the opportunity to hear from a few women who have followed a Mathematical career, and how their work has led to interesting and sometimes surprising pathways in their profession.

Mathematics consists of Pure and Applied elements, the latter being very much the focus of the day. Starting off with a workshop entitled 'Building Bridges' we heard from Alison Terry, an engineer based in the South East, who spent much of her time designing structures that, with even one calculation error, would certainly collapse potentially resulting in large-scale fatalities. Exploring the many considerations needed for successful bridge-building we learned that engineers have to be creative as well as methodical and accurate, and they certainly do not carry spanners!

The girls were given coded information (the same code that professional engineers use daily) about concrete structures for creating a bridge that needed reinforcing with steel girders. The position of each steel cylinder is critical to the safety of the bridge, and the calculations involved (nothing beyond the Year 9 Maths syllabus) had to be very accurate. Armed with the given information, they had to judge whether diagrams of the proposed structures were viable. In fact, only one of the four examples was a safe option. Our girls skillfully identifying the very dangerous ones and the reasons why they should certainly be condemned.

Another application of Mathematics is in Statistics and Data Analysis. We heard from Dr Jennifer Rogers, from the University of Oxford, who wanted to work in the Pharmaceutical industry and is now in Statistics, using her knowledge of the subject to assess facts such as whether new drugs are effective against diseases. She introduced some interesting statistical facts: Did you know that you are more likely to die taking a selfie than being eaten by a shark? In fact, the Russian government has introduced a leaflet that warns against the dangers of the Selfie! Someone did actually die by posing with a loaded gun to his head!

Dr Rogers took us through many headlines claiming that market products are bad for your health. For example, there have been recent claims that eating processed meat causes cancer, and the advice was to give up bacon and all other such food. Pulling the claims apart, and looking at the statistical evidence in fact of just 400 people, four would die of cancer regardless of whether or not they ate bacon, sausages, and chorizo, and there would only be one extra casualty based on the observed evidence of the survey if you did eat processed meat. That one person would have to eat it every day of their lives to be affected. Food for thought indeed!

The next hour was spent problem-solving with the Fun Maths Roadshow, and finally, the Mathemagic session revealed many tricks and strategies that can be employed to ensure that you can always win at some games if you know your magic squares and the strategy behind noughts and crosses!

We had a fabulous day, thanks to The Further Maths Network and the Oxford University Mathematics Institute. Before we go, please beware of any of the participating Year 9 girls if they challenge you to a game of Poisoned Chocolate Bar!

Mrs Rouan and Mrs Cologne-Brookes


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