The sum of maths and magic equals a marvellous 180th anniversary lecture

The sum of maths and magic equals a marvellous 180th anniversary lecture

23 March 2023

Mathematician Zoe Griffiths brought lots of numbers to the latest in our series of 180th anniversary lectures – as well as some magic.

In a very engaging and highly interactive talk on “The hidden maths of technology”, Zoe explained just how much maths is at work as we scan barcodes in shops, send messages on our phones or take a digital photograph. When introducing each new bit of tech, Zoe impressed her audience with card tricks and some ‘mind reading’ that, as well as being highly enjoyable, helped explain the underlying maths. She also, literally, put maths – and a photo of her face – under the microscope when showing us via the large screen how a digital photo is basically a spreadsheet.

Summing up, Zoe said she hoped she had successfully shared her view of maths as something exciting and creative and advised that, even if not considering a career directly related to maths, it is a subject that will help keep a wide range of options open to students.

Earlier, in period 6, Zoe talked to students in Years 10 and 11 about “Numbers in the News”, in which she explained that many of the statistics and "facts" we read and hear about in the media are misleading. She talked about the importance of thinking critically about these numbers, which we often use as the basis for decisions. To do this, Zoe used real examples including a report on the incidence of COVID in vaccinated vs unvaccinated people in the UK and a Colorado opinion poll from the run up to the 2016 US presidential election.

Zoe also explained that people often don’t tell the truth in surveys – particularly if the topic is embarrassing in some way. She ran some “live maths” with the whole group to look at how statisticians address this issue by “masking” embarrassing questions and using statistical calculations.

It was a valuable session for everyone to help us navigate the numbers of daily life, as well as aspiring statisticians and journalists who believe in the importance of accuracy.

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