Maths on Screen

Weird and Wonderful Maths

(Shapes, proof and waves)

Ages 13-16

Maths, Mystery and the Electric Guitar
David Acheson shares some of his favourite mathematical curiosities, including neat proofs and amazing connections – with some impressive electric guitar along the way.

Fractals and other Freaky Maths
Steve Mould loves mathematical surprises, and demonstrates some classics, including number patterns on the front page of a newspaper, prime number cicadas, and the strangest bike wheels you’ve ever seen.


The Presenters

David Acheson - Oxford Mathematician and Guitarist

Steve Mould - TV Science Expert


What David and Steve have to say about learning maths.


What did you think of maths when you were at school?
It was the one subject where you didn't just copy down stuff that you had no real means of verifying.

Which was your favourite bit of maths at school?
Elementary geometry. When done 'sensibly', it is, in my opinion, the fastest way to grasp the whole spirit of real, serious maths at its best.

What did you do at university?
Maths and physics. 

What's your favourite number?
Seven, possibly because of the 'Secret Seven' books by Enid Blyton, which made a great impression on me when I was young, and which even influenced, many years later, the whole design and feel of '1089 and All That'.

What do you like apart from maths?
Playing and composing for guitar. My great heroes are Hank Marvin and the Shadows, Mark Knopfler, and the legendary jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be.
It doesn't exist, but it would be called Oxford-by-the-Sea.

If you could give one maths tip to a 15-year old, what would it be?
This is a very difficult question, because of the 'one', but it is of course by far the most important.

I would say: try and form your own 'Big Picture' of the subject as soon as you can. One way of helping with this is to ask yourself occasionally: 'When did I last see, and prove, a general result that really surprised me?' Then try to get a bit of a grip on these major results and how they are related. Be prepared, of course, for this 'Big Picture' of yours to gradually change as you get older and learn more mathematics.

What was the most unusual place you ever gave a maths talk?
In Oxford on a Saturday night to a local software company, at their annual dinner in place of a disco which had 'not gone well' the year before. By the time I got up with my Powerpoint etc, it was 10.45pm and, because the dining room of the hotel had a low ceiling, my head shot straight into an alcoholic vapour cloud.

Is there any maths that you don't like?
Permutations and combinations. (Whenever someone starts talking about black and red socks in a drawer...)



What did you think of maths when you were at school?
Loved it! 

Which was your favourite bit of maths at school?
Calculus. And proof by induction.

Is there any maths that you don’t like?
I didn't used to like learning my times table. To be clear, I don't consider this to be maths! But they call it maths in school. Booo!

What did you do at university?

What’s your favourite number?
Tau (which is double Pi, about 6.28). It's much better than Pi and we should all start using that instead.

What do you like APART from maths?
Physics, chemistry, psychology and anything to do with tech.

If you could give one maths tip to a 15 year old, what would it be?
Don't learn the steps you need to answer a question, instead learn why those steps work. That way you'll never forget and you'll be able to come up with new ways of doing things because you understand it.

What was the most unusual place you ever gave a maths talk?
In a tent in a field at the Secret Garden Party music festival with dubstep blaring in the background.


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