On Tuesday 19th November, 14 students from Year 10 along with Year 12 and Year 13 Further Maths students from Dereham Sixth Form headed to the Open Venue in Norwich with Mr Lound, Mr Atkin and Miss Theobald for the 4th annual Michaelmas Mathematics Symposium, hosted by the Norwich School.

Hundreds of students and teachers from a whole host of schools from Norfolk and Suffolk descended on the venue, eagerly awaiting the two guest speakers who came from quite different backgrounds. Firstly, Dr Hugh Hunt, a Cambridge University Reader in Engineering Dynamics and Vibration, and a Fellow of Trinity College Cambridge and secondly Matt Parker, a stand-up comedian/mathematician, # 1 best-selling maths author and YouTube video creator. Matt was originally a Maths teacher from Australia.

Dr Hugh Hunt was up first, his talk entitled ‘Boomerangs’. Before he got onto the topic of boomerangs he talked about a number of areas of maths where by doing experiments you could see the maths being demonstrated, such as bouncing a ball under a table and how it bounces back. Also, someone aiming to break the world record for the ‘Wall of Death’ and the calculations they had to do firstly to ensure that the g-force was not too great but also the size of track. All of the maths has to be carefully considered and this was also true in another video shown where a car did a loop the loop as you may well do on a rollercoaster. Hugh discussed the forces involved when spinning, asking a volunteer to stand on a free spinning platform holding two milk bottles, arms spread out. As he spun them round slowly, they moved their arms closer to their body and started to speed up. Moving their arms back out again slowed the rotation. This is a technique that ice-skaters use when they want to speed up or slow down their spins. A second demonstration which Hannah and Natasha were able to have a go at, involved a spinning bike wheel. Holding it pointing upward, with it spinning clockwise meant that they spun in one direction however moving the position so that it was spinning anti-clockwise meant that they started to spin in a different direction. Satellites make use of this gyroscopic effect in space, for example if they need to move to point a telescope in a particular direction. Towards the end Hugh demonstrated how boomerangs fly and the maths involved which mean they fly, and the type of path they take.

This talk certainly involved some high-level maths which some of our students may go on to look at if they study aspects of Further Maths or Physics at A-level or beyond. A quick question and answer session followed before a short break.

The second speaker, Matt Parker, introduced his talk which he titled ‘The Greatest Maths Mistakes Ever’. He told the audience that he loves to look for and hear about maths mistakes, some which can have big consequences such as a Canadian plane being fuelled for a flight between Edmonton and Montreal and running out of fuel due to the wrong units being used! He gave an example of when McDonalds was taken to court when their McChoice menu advertised 40 312 different combinations of meals from the 8 items on the menu. Mathematicians felt this was misleading and the maths was wrong and McDonalds were taken to court. It was quite an interesting story where the maths was interpreted differently. (read about it here).

Matt also spoke about his love of cogs and showed some adverts and posters where cogs just don’t work. Having three cogs all connected together would mean that one jams and this led to some rather funny interpretations on the posters shown, particular one which aimed to show parents, teachers and students all working in harmony! He explained that in order for cogs to work you needed an even number of cogs because as one spins clockwise, each one it connected to spins anti-clockwise and so on. He said that he had noticed on a £2 coin he had (which has cogs on it) that there were 19 cogs and hence it ‘would not work’. He researched on the internet and found that the designer of the coin (who incidentally had been an art teacher in Norwich and the teacher of someone attending the symposium), had initially designed the coin with 22 cogs which ‘would work’. It turns out the Royal Mint had artistic license and had omitted 3 of the cogs.

There were a few more examples of maths mistakes before a second question and answer session. Matt was asked what his favourite cereal was and comically he replied, ‘a shredded wheat type cereal from the US which was in the shape of a square. The company decided to do a special edition and changed to diamonds, doing a whole campaign where the picture had just been turned 45 degrees on the box!’

Just before leaving guests were able to purchase copies of Matt’s books and get them signed – it was a very long queue.

Overall, this was a great opportunity to not only see some applications of maths outside the classroom or textbook, but also to see why you have to take care with your maths. Two fantastic talks from superb speakers – a big thank you to the Norwich School for hosting the event, Dr Hugh Hunt and Matt Parker for their insightful talks and to Miss Theobald, Mr Lound and Mr Atkin for organising the trip.

Here are a few comments from the Year 10s who attended:

Natasha: ‘I really liked learning about how the satellites are able to turn in space.’

Barney: ‘I found it interesting to see how maths can be applied in different ways.’

Jimmy + Hannah: ‘It was interesting but confusing at times. It was good to see the physical side of maths too.’

Ronni: ‘It was interesting to see that some people don’t think carefully about their maths and one simple mistake can have a big impact. I found Matt’stalk really funny.’

You can see more pictures for the event here.