Category Archives: Science Festival

Party Hard! at Edinburgh International Science Festival 2014

EISF_Corporate_Identity_RGB_72dpiOur local science festival returns from 5th to 20th April and ICMS is proud to have Dr Colva Roney-Dougal, Senior Lecturer in Pure Mathematics from the University of St Andrews to deliver Party Hard!, our Edinburgh International Science Festival lecture on 10th April 2014. Colva’s research concerns the development of fast methods to compute with billions of symmetries, in less time than it takes to fetch a coffee. As well as public lectures, her mathematics popularisation includes radio shows with Brian Cox and Robin Ince, and with Melvyn Bragg.

Party Hard! – the mathematics of connections, will investigate how many guests need to come to a party to guarantee at least five will know one another or at least five will be mutual strangers. She’ll also look at the many applications of the mathematics of connections; from friendship, through marriage to the spread of disease. Along the way Colva will show how infinity plays some very peculiar tricks and discover some unexpected links between mathematicians and Hollywood stars.

The talk will take place in The Red Lecture Theatre, Summerhall, Edinburgh on Thursday 10 April at 5.30pm. Tickets are £8 (concessions £4-£6) and can be booked through the Edinburgh International Science Festival website where you’ll also find venue details and a location map.

In addition, ICMS staff member, Madeleine Shepherd and Dr Julia Collins, Maths Outreach Officer at the University of Edinburgh have collaborated over the last year on Botanica Mathematica, a new textile art and mathematics project. Some readers might recall their talk about this project in December 2013. Their knitting and crochet pattern for Binary Bonsai trees has travelled the world via the internet. Crafters from the US, Europe and the UK have sent back a forest of little trees that make up the finished art work. There’s still time to join in if you want to knit a tree too – see the project blog for details. Botanica Mathematica will be on display as part of the Science at the HeArt of Things art trail, also at Summerhall so why not come early to Colva’s lecture and take in some science-based art too?

Dots and Holes at the Edinburgh International Science Festival

Next week ICMS will be the proverbial hive of activity!  As well as hosting the Mathematical Neuroscience 2011 workshop we have two public lectures as part of Edinburgh International Science Festival.

Robert Ghrist of the University of Pennsylvania will be in Edinburgh on Tuesday 12 April to deliver a Distinguished Lecture at the School of Informatics for the Scottish Topology Seminar of the School of Mathematics and to give a more general interest talk about the Mathematics of Holes as part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival.  His talk introduces `topology’ – the mathematical study of holes – and uses a century’s worth of holey innovations to explain why your cell phone drops calls, why your GPS plans erratic travel routes, and why you can’t find good, cheap, healthy fast-food.

Two days later, on Thursday 14 April, our own Scientific Director, Keith Ball, will be here to tell you about Counting Dots and Pick’s Theorem.  An interesting piece of recreational maths , Pick’s Theorem also provides an excellent illustration of how mathematicians think about research problems.

The formula calculates the area of certain polygons but it also captures the fundamental property of prime numbers that underlies the cryptographic systems used to protect financial transactions and the patterns produced by the children’s toy, Spirograph.

Both talks take place at 7pm in the main lecture theatre at 15 South College Street.  Tickets can be booked through the Festival’s box office using the following links:

We look forward to seeing you at one or both of them!

N is another success!

N is a Number - panel discussion

N is a Number - panel discussion: (l to r) Tim Johnson, Chris Eilbeck, Andrew J Wilson.

Last night saw the final screening in the Maths at the Movies season for 2009.  An almost full-house were treated to a rare cinema showing of N is a Number George Csicsery’s classic documentary portrait of Hungarian mathematican Paul Erdös. This was followed by a discussion of all three films in the series and how mathematicians are percieved by the media in general.

Panellists Andrew J Wilson and Tim Johnson were united  in their opinion of  The Oxford Murders as a slight murder mystery within a caricature of the mathematical community. By contrast 21 was considered a much better piece of work, in terms of storytelling, realistic character portrayal and mathematical content.  The probabilistic approach to “gambling maths” in 21 led to comparison with the current financial crisis and a fine exposition from Tim on how the banks got it wrong – by misidentifying the process of mathematics as an absolute solution.

Many a mathmatician is disappointed in the regular depiciton of eccentricity, and sometimes madness as a prerequiste for mathematical ability.  This issue was addressed by Andrew, saying that the nature of dramatic narrative requires something out of the ordinary to create a story. However, we should not lose sight of the supporting cast of mathematicians who populate these films. From pure fiction to documentary, they constitute the background of normality against which the eccentric character’s tale is told.

The audience participation was lively, well-informed and wide ranging, exploring maths education, mainstream film and television portrayals of science and maths and finally throwing up some novel ideas for scripts.

This event was a successful end to a successful season of mathematical films and talks at the 21st Edinburgh International Science Festival.  ICMS thanks all those who made it so – Filmhouse and Festival staff, speakers, panellists and event chairs, sponsors and, most of all, the audiences.

See for backround information.

Capacity crowds at maths lectures!

Allen Knutson demonstrates a juggling trick during his talk.

Allen Knutson demonstrates a juggling trick during his talk.

Maths is not always the best choice of topic to attract large audiences but 180 people filled the lecture theatre (twice!) for ICMS’ public lectures last night. These events were the centre piece of our contribution to the 21st Edinburgh International Science Festival and we were thrilled to be able to share our passion for maths with so many people.

Two very different speakers demonstrated their applications of maths to the “entertainment industry” much to the delight of the crowd.

Allen Knutson, The Juggling Mathematician (left), described what has become a standard way of notating juggling tricks and how it can be used to explore new possibilities in his art, interspersed with dazzling displays of dexterity (in both hand and footwork!). Among other things, he showed us the infamous “baby juggling” trick, substituting a shoe as no babies volunteered from the audience. The trick involves juggling with standard balls and one awkwardly shaped object. Using the notation it is easy to work out where to insert the object to make the routine work easily and with comic effect.

David Baraff answering audience questions after his talk.

David Baraff answering audience questions after his talk.

David Baraff, Senior Animation Scientist at Pixar (below left) followed Allen with an insight into the mathematical models that underlie such captivating films as Monsters Inc and Ratatouille. David’s speciality is realistically simulating the movement of hair and cloth. He and his team do this so well that we often take for granted the attention to detail in these animations. However every fold in every costume in every frame has to be described by David’s models – no wonder he won an Academy Award for it!

David also gave a short introduction to a screening of Ratatouille earlier that day at Filmhouse Cinema and was interviewed on Forth 2 in the morning.

For the slides from the Juggling Mathematician talks, background links about Pixar animation and more information about all ICMS events at the 2009 Science Festival see the page on our website (links are in the sidebar).

The first of the series sells out!

Filmhouse Cinema's box office board showing that we'v filled the hall

Filmhouse Cinema's box office board showing that we'v filled the hall

The first film in the Maths at the Movies series was screened last night to a full house.  This murder mystery set in the Oxford mathematical community of 1993 kept the audience guessing to the end – and not just about why the scriptwriters saw fit to change Fermat to Bormat!

Following on from this film we are showing 21 on Thursday 9 April 5.45pm.  Another gripping tale, this time based on the true story of how some gifted mathematics students were coached not only in playing blackjack but in all the other skills needed to be big winners in Las Vegas.  Why did they do it – to get rich quick, to get into medical school or just because they could?

There are still tickets available for 21 but  don’t leave it too late in case we repeat yesterday’s sucess! Visit to book tickets online.

If you want to know more about Maths in the Movies in general visit the ICMS website.

Movie maths attracts press interest

ICMS’ events for the 21st Edinburgh International Science Festival are stimulating lots of interest from the local and national press.

The Maths at the Movies season was the subject of an article in The Scotsman newspaper and who also listed it as the best forthcoming movie event.

David Baraff is visiting from Pixar Animation Studios and will be giving a live interview on Radio Forth on the morning of his talk.  He was also interviewed for the Scotsman’s Science and Environment page on Saturday 4 April.

Plus Magazine, the Cambridge online magazine about mathematics, has also written about all the ICMS events in their blog.

Full details of the events and lots of background information can be found on this newly updated page on the ICMS website.  There is also a Facebook page for the ICMS Science Festival contribution.

ICMS gets festive about science

Yesterday morning the programme for the Edinburgh International Science Festival was formally launched by the Michael Russell MSP, the Scottish Culture Minister.  This year’s programme contains six events orgainsed by  ICMS – our largest contribution to the Festival to date.

Paul Erdos in N is a Number

Paul Erdös in N is a Number

Building on the success of last year’s Film Cubed season, we return to Filmhouse Cinema for Maths at the Movies.  This year the focus is on the way mathematicians are represented in different kinds of narrative – pure fiction, fictionalised real life and documentary.  The pure fiction offering is The Oxford Murders, starring John Hurt and Elijah Wood, screened on April 7.   The Hollywood retelling of the story of maths students taking on the Las Vegas casinos is our second film, 21. It stars Kevin Spacey and is screened on 9 April.  The season concludes on 16 April with the documentary N is a number – a film portrait of Paul Erdös.  This screening will be followed by an audience and panel discussion.


Still from Ratatouille

Staying with the film theme, we are very pleased to welcome David Baraff of Pixar Animation Studios. Onthe evening of 14 April, David will be giving a talk on the a role of mathematical modelling in computer animation, illustrated with clips and computer graphics and not an equation in sight!  To complement this talk, there will be a screening of Pixar’s Oscar winning tale of a French rat’s ambition to be a chef, Ratatouille. David will give a special introduction to the film at Filmhouse Cinema earlier that afternoon.

Allen Knutson, The Juggling Mathematician

Allen Knutson, The Juggling Mathematician

Our sixth presentation for this festival is a talk by Allen Knutson, of Cornell University, about the relationship between mathematics and juggling!  By mathematically analysing the process of juggling he found it was possible to discover new tricks that may never have come to light otherwise.  This promises to be a most entertaining event as Allen demonstrates the principles involved using his dazzling juggling skills. This event takes place early in the evening of 14 April.

Both talks will be in the Informatics Forum, University of Edinburgh.  Tickets can be purchased in advance from the Science Festival website.

All four films will be screened in Filmhouse Cinema, 88 Lothian Road, Edinburgh.  Tickets can be purchased in advance from the Filmhouse website or in person at their box office.