The University of Greenwich's Department of Mathematical Sciences hosted the two-day IMA Festival of Mathematics and its Applications. Funded by the University of Greenwich, the IMA, the OR Society, GCHQ, the Further Mathematics Support Programme (FMSP), the London South East and Kent & Medway Maths Hubs, and FDM, the festival showcased a diverse range of event to show the value of the study of mathematics at all levels.

Over the duration of the festival, over 1500 visitors came, many of them school students and teachers from primary through all stages of secondary schools and colleges. Schools from as far away as Cambridge and Canterbury visited the beautiful Queen Anne Court of the Old Royal Naval College campus of Greenwich University: where on arrival they could see people demonstrating the non-Newtonian behaviour of custard by walking on it! Enthusiastic feet-on participants included IMA Executive Director David Youdan and Assistant Director John Meeson.

Presentations and workshops covered a wide range of mathematics including talks on applications including medicine, emergency evacuation modelling, engineering modelling, cryptography, music, statistical significance, patterns and predictions to name but a few! The festival also had many workshops and hands-on maths activities. Visitor feedback was incredibly positive, with praise especially given to the talk by Nira Chamberlain on “The Black Heroes of Mathematics”, and the exhibition “Women of mathematics throughout Europe: a gallery of portraits”, a collection of photographs by Noel Tovia Matoff.

The festival was keen to make visitors aware of the career opportunities offered by studying mathematics, and Alison Terry and Aoife Hunt attracted large audiences for their talks about the possibilities opened up by studying mathematics at A-level and beyond. It was particularly appropriate in this context that the result of the IMA Maths Careers website poster competition was announced during the Festival and the shortlisted posters were on display.

The festival’s success in raising awareness of the applications of mathematics could be seen in the answers to the tie-break question of the mathematical treasure hunt, which required a number of questions to be answered to generate a code word that needed decrypting. Looks like the cryptography workshops had been well received! The tie-break asked entrants what surprising mathematics they had discovered at the Festival, and almost every event was mentioned by some. It was clear that the range of applications of mathematics, especially to medicine, had not been appreciated by many of those who came.

It was very heartening to see how successful the festival had been in enthusing and inspiring visitors, and perhaps in suggesting future career pathways. The final word on the Festival goes to the students and teachers from The Archbishop’s School, Canterbury who created a wordle which is a wonderful way to express maths through words. For more information on all the events, visit the festival website .

By Tony Mann