On Thursday 26th February, a group of nine year 10 girls accompanied by 2 teachers set out to the Royal institution to join several other schools in taking part in the ‘women in maths celebration’. The day was comprised of a series of lectures, all given by prominent and successful women, hoping to inspire all the young women in the room (as well as the row of Harrow boys seated behind the NLCS girls!), by explaining how they used maths in their different fields and boasting the endless benefits and variety studying maths could bring you.
The talks began with UCL’s deputy head of mathematics, Dr Helen Wilson, speaking about the nature of ‘non-Newtonian, viscous’ fluids, through the more universally accessible model of a chocolate fountain (for which she had brought marshmallows for everyone)! her inspiring talk was followed by Naomi ball, speaking as the Senior Operational Research Consultant at British Airways, (that she had been until recently deciding to change jobs), on what Operational Research actually was, what her job entailed, and where it had taken her.
She introduced the idea of operational research through the example of Abraham Walds’ work on aircraft survivability during ww2. He had observed that fighter planes which came back with numerous bullet holes needed to somehow be re-enforced, but there was only a limited supply of material. He therefore needed to decide where it would be most efficient to reinforce the planes, and unlike all of his contemporaries who were certain their best bet would be to reinforce the sections of the planes with the most bullet holes, Walds decided to put the reinforcement where there was no apparent damage at all. This was because, all of the ‘observable damage’ was from the planes that had survived and made it back, therefore these ‘injuries’ to the plane hadn’t been fatal. However, Walds realised that the areas where there was no visible damage such as the cockpit, were the most vital to protect, because if these were hit, the whole plane would go down and there would be nothing left for the research team to observe! Naomi went on to explain how this branch of maths had developed into something she now used to optimise fleet strategy, passenger and baggage operations and sales. She then got everyone to have a go at their own optimising question (maximising the profit in seat price by deciding how many seats of economy/business class to get), at which some of the NLCS girls got particularly excited, having just recently studied linear programming, and getting the chance to see how it was used first hand!
Following this very informative and gripping talk, a group of three current university students, all of whom were studying maths at very prestigious universities, answered the girls’ questions on what their interests had been at school, why they had chosen maths, and how they had achieved it. The general consensus seemed to be that maths opened many doors, offered excellent skills and variety, and was very enjoyable (as well as the apparent tendency to take French along with maths for A level).
After the lunch break and a quiz, a third, captivating speaker, Dr Hannah Fry entertained the girls with her talk on how maths could help you solve crimes, be found in love, and explain the reason as to why approximately 90% of the time, following Wikipedia links will end up always taking you to the page “philosophy”. Dr Fry’s talk focused on how maths can be used alongside psychology, and to enhance understanding of human interaction.
The day was rounded off with the unexpected arrival of the popular TV show, Countdown’s very own Rachel Riley (the one who does the maths round), which caused much excitement amongst the audience. She spoke about her experience as the only pupil who took further maths in her school and her perseverance with some of the topics which seemed incomprehensible to her. She also mentioned the huge perk of a substantial clothing allowance with her job on Countdown, and how that may have been a factor of deciding whether to take the job!
Overall it was a fun day for all in which the girls eyes were opened to the endless opportunities that maths can bring, and that it is much more relevant to everyday life than they had previously appreciated.
-Varuna Mitra, Year 10