School of Mathematics

Mathematics Masterclasses

Our Royal Institution Mathematics Masterclasses, jointly organised with Heriot-Watt and Napier Universities, are interactive and hands-on super-curricular classes designed to stimulate and encourage young people in the art and practice of mathematics. Masterclasses are designed to stretch and inspire keen and talented pupils from all over the Edinburgh and Lothian regions, allowing them to broaden their mathematical knowledge and develop a sense of enjoyment in the subject. Classes are led by top experts from academia and industry, and cover a broad range of mathematical topics.


NOTE: This page contains information about our 2019 program. Unfortunately, we were unable to run the Royal Institution Masterclasses in 2020. However, in February/March 2021, we are running a series of online sessions, in collaboration with other Scottish institutions. For further information, please visit this page.

Our Mathematics Masterclasses series, jointly organised with Heriot-Watt and Napier Universities, runs for eight weeks in the autumn term, starting in September. Every Saturday morning, a different speaker is invited to share their favourite part of mathematics, which could be an interesting game they've played, an aspect of their cutting-edge research, a magic trick, or an unexpected connection between maths and another subject. Classes are never just a dry lecture, but are highly interactive and a great opportunity for pupils to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Schools from the Edinburgh and Lothian regions are invited to nominate up to two S2 pupils to take part in the series; we usually accept around 90 pupils, from a mix of state and private schools. Parents cannot nominate their child directly, but are encouraged to speak to their child's teacher if they are interested. Pupils are selected based on their enthusiasm for mathematics and their work ethic rather than purely on their mathematical ability. You can find out more about Royal Institution Masterclasses here.


Program of the 2019 series

Date Speaker     Title     Description
28th September     Chris Sangwin

How Round is Your Circle?


Mechanisms are all around us, but we often take them for granted, or don't even notice they exist. Many rely on rotating parts. That is, one circular part which fits inside another. To work smoothly and without wearing out they need to be made very accurately. In some situations this is critical to safety.  How do you test if something is round? The mathematics needed to answer to this question involves the shape of the 50p coin, the NASA Space Shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986 and how to drill a square hole.

5th October Gemma Hood

Geometry   of the Universe


We need geometry to answer some of the big questions about our universe. Einstein's celebrated theory of general relativity suggests that the effects of gravity can be explained by curvature. In this masterclass we will explore cosmic geometry and end by thinking about some of the most mysterious geometric objects of all - black holes.








Break over school holidays.


26th October


Kate Durkacz


Maths and Engineering





2nd November Francesca Iezzi

Dancing with   Maths


How is Maths related to folk dences, like Ceilidh? 

They both have something to do with patterns. Often complex dances are based on a series of simple patterns, where, after a certain number of moves and swaps, dancers return to their initial positions. Drawing on folk dances, I will introduce the area of Mathematics, called “group theory”, which lies behind the study of patterns and symmetries, then I will talk about other applications of this area. There will be space for creativity, and you will also invent your own dance!

9th November

Samanta Durbin

Fabulous Fractals


Fractals are weird and wonderful shapes with many fascinating properties. We will have a go at drawing and creating some of these beautiful shapes and will explore some of their more mind-blowing characteristics. Students will need a pen, pencil and scientific calculator.

16th November

Des Johnston The Game of Life


The Game of Life was invented by a British mathematician, John Horton Conway, in 1970. It is played on a square grid like a chess board on which cells live, die or are born according to simple rules. In many ways these cells behave like living things, in spite of the simplicity of the rules that govern their fate, and this led to the name of "Life" for the game. The masterclass session first introduces the Game of Life and explains the rules. We will then play Life on a computer, exploring different starting patterns and even the effect of changing the rules, and also explore the game on paper.



23rd   November



Tim Johnson Maths and finance: chickens and eggs The relationship between maths and finance is obvious, What is less well known is the role of money and commerce in stimulating the development of maths. The talk will mix examples of the relationship between maths and financial decision making with accounts of how commercial practice has influenced the development of maths and scientific theories.


30th November


Mark Wilkinson


Numbers - big, small, and weird


Most of us think we know what numbers are, based on our use of them in everyday life, but mathematicians have discovered that they can be staggeringly larger, overwhelmingly smaller, or downright weirder than our experience of reality could ever suggest! In this masterclass, we'll explore how big numbers can be, encountering along the way the notion of infinite numbers (otherwise known as Georg Cantor's transfinite cardinals). We'll also explore how small numbers can be, guided by John Conway's aptly-named surreal numbers. Finally, we'll have a look at the weird world of imaginary numbers, quaternions and octonions!    


The final masterclass will end with a closing ceremony at which pupils who have regularly attended the masterclasses will be awarded a certificate. Parents are invited to this masterclass, and the morning will finish with a celebratory buffet.

The Edinburgh & Lothians Mathematics Masterclasses are supported by the University of Edinburgh, Heriot Watt University, Napier University and the Royal Institution. We are very grateful to the Glasgow Mathematical Journal Trust and the James Clerk Maxwell Foundation for their financial support of our 2018 series. If you are interested in offering us financial support for future years then we would be glad to hear from you!