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Behind-the-Scenes@The Institute of Mathematical Sciences

Tuesday 10th June 2008 @ 18:15


The Institute of Mathematical Sciences was founded in 2005 with a donation from Imperial Alumnus Dr David Potter the founder of Psion and the creator of the Personal Organiser and hand held computer that shares the name. Professor Hall told Friends that this money had helped leverage very substantial grants from Government and investment from the private sector. The concept of the Institute was to bring together multi-disciplinary groups including mathematicians and statisticians to explore some societal, medical, environmental and othe scientific enigmas. The fundamental questions were being asked about how mathematics might be used to understand these complex questions.?

Dr Sophia Yaliraki gave an account of how she had brought together a team from around the globe to examine the complex chemistry of human cells using mathematics to explain what she described as multiscale phenomena - now becoming a new branch of science. She explained that the cell had a number of different molecules fulfilling various functions over time. Some changing in milliseconds others taking minutes hours and years. Understanding the changes could lead to a better understanding of the chemical nature of some diseases. She used the example of connective tissue showing the molecules of healthy tissue and the molecular change that took place with degenaration. Understanding the underlying chemistry could lead to preventive medicine or cures.? ?

Nick Harrigan gave a virtuoso performance, in the guise of Spiderman, demonstrating how spiders can climb any surface. His demonstrations of the quantum effect of atoms on adjoining surfaces included giant Leggo and suction cups for un-blocking drains. It was not difficult to see how he had won the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, NESTA, and Channel 4 FameLab award at the Cheltenham Science Festival in 2007 for his demonstration of how microwave ovens work lst year. The aim of this prestigious national competition is to "discover the new voices of UK science and engineering. Find out more information about Nick and his colleagues at College Quantum Information News website.? ?

Professor Henrik Jensen introduced his work on complex systems by showing the pattern of the great extinctions of species in the paleantological record. The suspicion was that these great extinctions which took place after long periods of equilibrium occured not from volcanoes or comets colliding with the earth but were inherent in the complex systems that sustained life on the planet.?

David Hand Professor of Statistics in the Department of Mathematics spoke about how mathematics were being used by banks and other organisations to understand more about their customers. "Each time you make a transaction with a credit card the bank recorded 70 or 80 individual bits of information", he told the audience. He showed how new methods were being used to track down career fraudsters and to identify those that were likely to default or not on loans.?

Professor Nick Peters, a medical heart specialist from the Heart and Lung Institute at St Mary's, explained how by bringing a team including mathematicians together he was analysing how the electrical signals that drive the heart muscles caused fibrillation in some patients. A normal rythymn was usual re-established after the fast and erratic heart beat of fibrillation but it could also lead to a stroke. Professor Peters showed that by understanding the underlying mathematics of the electrical impulses it would be possible to find ways of reducing or irradicating the erratic signals.

In thanking the speakers Friend's Chairman Roderick Rhys Jones quoted Glen Gould that he had found on Professor Jensen's website, commenting that it is as relevant to science as it is to art.?

"The purpose of art is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenaline but rather the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder." Glenn Gould

Venue: 53 Princes Gate