School of Mathematics

Mathematics Masterclasses 2018

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.


Program of the 2018 series

Date Speaker     Title     Description
22nd 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.

29th September    Miguel De Carvalho Surrounded by Data


Statistics is the science of learning from data. We'll have a look at how statisticians have been contributing to the data science revolution, and use their methods to compare the statistics of Ronaldo and Messi, to learn how height can be related with weight, and to show how you can use statistics to detect fraud.

6th October Catherine Ramsay The Elemental Solids


Meet the three dimensional shapes that have captured the interest and imagination of mathematicians for thousands of years. We will discover their mystical origins, investigate their properties and prove important results about these and other polyhedra in a hands on exploration of the beauty and order of euclidean geometry.


13th October


Francesca Iezzi


Dancing with Mathematics


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!








Break over school holidays.


27th October


Benedetta Mussati


Building on prime numbers


Prime numbers are those natural numbers greater than 1 which cannot be formed by multiplying two smaller natural numbers. They have fascinated people for centuries, and they are at the core of theorems defining the structure of numbers, such as the Fundamental Theorem of Arithmetic. Despite intensive research, many of their aspects still remain unknown, like their apparent inexistent pattern. Today we will dive through the history of primes, the advancements made and current real-world applications such as cryptography.

3rd November Mark Wilkinson

Euclid's Pictures


Euclidean geometry is the ancient science of straight lines and circles. To get to the heart of its beauty, all you need is a pencil, a straight edge, and a pair of compasses! Despite its initial apparent simplicity, the importance of Euclidean geometry in mathematics runs deeply. Indeed, Einstein (in the very opening page of his famous book on Relativity Theory) writes about how Euclid's pictures provided him the gateway to his own profound understanding of physics. In this masterclass, we hope to reveal how drawing geometrical pictures in the spirit of Euclid can lead to a deep understanding of the geometry of the universe!

10th 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.

17th 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.


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 2017 series. If you are interested in offering us financial support for future years then we would be glad to hear from you!