Smart Cities and maths teaching does it all add up?

Dr. Hannah Fry - Lecturer in the Mathematics



You may have seen Dr. Hannah Fry on City in the Sky, the new BBC2 documentary about what happens in the skies above us. Her ‘day job’ is as a lecturer in the Mathematics of Cities or ‘Smart Cities and Urban Analytics’ at UCL. However, what really excites us about Dr. Fry’s newfound media attention is the fact she is an evangelist for mathematics. What she demonstrates is how mathematics is not irrelevant. In a few short sentences she can easily answer the age-old question: ‘why are we learning this? What’s the point?’

Mathematics has the solutions to the conundrums of contemporary living

City in the Sky


It’s easier than ever to demonstrate just how sexy mathematics can be and of course, just how relevant. We have never been under so much pressure than we are under now to produce school leavers capable of dealing with the complex questions thrown up by contemporary living. If we can demonstrate just how exciting maths can be we may well stand a chance of attracting people to study, use and teach the subject.

Mathematics is in everything

As Hannah Fry said in her interview with the London Evening Standard, everyone needs mathematics. When a supermarket chain wants to open a new store they need to work out the most appropriate location. They need to discover how to attract the most customers without breaking the bank. The police need to calculate how to use resources in the most effective way. Transport for London needs to calculate how to minimise disruption if a line goes down. They will all use maths. Dr. Fry believes strongly that ‘ for pretty much anything you can think of, mathematics will come into it.’ When we study the practical solutions mathematics can create the understanding, passion and interest must surely follow.

Trainspotting and the Mathematics of Love

The Mathematics of Love - Hannah Fry  

It’s great to see Dr. Fry so prominently featured on television and in the press. Mind you her book, ‘The Mathematics of Love’ drew headlines with its foolproof formula ‘to solve Tinder swipe fatigue’. She says that After City in the Sky she goes on to co-host a programme with Peter Snow entitled ‘Trainspotting Live’. You may well groan, but Dr. Fry is animated. She feels our love affair with the railways is quite romantic and likes to think the show will reflect the British quirkiness and eccentricity. But most of all she is excited because there is so much mathematics in the subject. 

Whatever Dr. Fry is involved with, it’s excellent for women and for maths.

Watch her YouTube presentation here

A recent study claimed women represent just 12.8% of the UK workforce in the STEM industries. Dr. Fry admits she thinks being a woman has been a small aspect involved in her promotions but she is also adamant when she says:

“It’s important to say that I’m just a normal person who really likes maths. There’s nothing else to it.”

She is also keen to bring mathematics to everyone and says: ‘ I don’t really buy the idea that you have some people who are natural mathematicians, like you have natural artists. It’s much more like English or reading; the more work you put in, the better you become.’

The MSc course, Smart Cities and Urban Analytics taught at UCL is an interesting one. It demonstrates how mathematics, urban planning, smart cities and population growth are key contemporary topics. There are core modules in:

Geographic Information Systems & Science
Quantitative Methods
Smart Cities: Context, Policy & Government
Smart Systems Theory
Spatial Data Capture, Storage & Analysis
Urban Simulation

Anyone studying this course would be equipped in skills such as:

Key quantitative practical skills: Statistical modelling, computer programming, spatial analysis, and cartographic visualisation.

In addition broad theoretical perspectives would include: Demographics economics, form, function, network interactions, governance, policy, planning and science of cities across the world.

So are we doing enough in schools to demonstrate to our students just what options are available to them if they continue studying mathematics? If teachers really fire students and show just what the options are for maths we may well see a shift in take up at every level. The most important thing is to promote mathematics teaching as a trending career. With personalities such as Dr. Hannah Fry we might continue to attract more people into the professions.

If you are enthused about teaching maths, changing careers or studying a teacher-training courses in the UK then you can find more information about courses and the Maths Scholars scholarship scheme here.