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.

Our Mathematics Masterclasses series, jointly organised with Heriot-Watt and Napier Universities, runs for eight weeks in the autumn term, starting in mid-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. The program for the 2017 series is in preparation. For the moment you can have a look at last year program.

Pupils taking part in Mathematics Masterclasses

Programme for 2016 series

Date Speaker     Title     Description
24th September     Jonny Scott The Primes

Sometimes called the atoms of arithmetic prime numbers are in many ways the building blocks of numbers. They have been studied by mathematicians for centuries yet still much remains unknown about them. In this masterclass we will talk about some basic results about the primes and solve some problems before taking a short look at unsolved questions and modern applications in the theory of prime numbers.

1st October 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.

8th October Gavin Reid What are the chances?!


Probability is fundamental to many real-life mathematical problems. We'll look at how we can use it to more scientifically quantify uncertainty and apply these ideas to understand how a clever punter might beat a bookie, the chances of winning the lottery, and how you might use maths to win in a game show!

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Break over school holidays.

29th October Annalisa Occhipinti Can you use Maths to Help a Doctor?


During this masterclass, we will learn about some applications of mathematics to medicine and cancer research. We will use simple maths to describe the progression of several diseases and select the most appropriate treatment. The masterclass will be based on current biomedical research in order to show that maths can be really useful in improve our lives.

5th 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.

12th November Carlos Zapata-Carratala Geometry and the Secrets of the Universe


Geometry has had a surprisingly deep impact in the theories of physics and science in general. In this masterclass we will explore the underlying principles of geometry at an elementary level and then move on to apply them in the "black box" experiment - a simplified analogy of how the scientific method works.

19th November Tom bourne Formal Languages and Automata


Have you ever wondered how a vending machine works? Or a turnstile, perhaps? Both of these machines are examples of an automaton, a simple model of a computer that follows strict instructions. In this masterclass, we'll explore how these machines are constructed with specific tasks in mind through the field of formal language theory, an exciting area of theoretical computer science that considers alphabets, words and languages in a mathematical way.

26st November Mairi Walker Mapping the world


Maps have been used for thousands of years to help us explain and explore the world around us. But how well does a map actually represent the surface of the Earth? In this masterclass we will explore different ways of mapping the world, and see how the problems we encounter lead us into an entirely new world of geometry.


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 2016 series. If you are interested in offering us financial support for future years then we would be glad to hear from you!