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By Alexander Baker, The University of Queensland

It all began early in my life. Mathematics provided fun little logical puzzles to solve and was far more intriguing than other subjects at school. These little puzzles sustained my interest in mathematics for years, whether it was solving a particularly tricky equation, given my skillset, or applying mathematics to model an artificial problem. However, in high school this interest waned, my passion receded, there was too much rote learning. Puzzles are no fun if you simply have to pick up one block and fit it into place. The joy was in that struggle with the problem and school no longer provided this.

My interest was renewed by biology. I’ve always been keen about science. It fascinates me. Now, hearing about the wonders of DNA, how we can construct experiments to answer questions and effectively interrogate the “code” of life or fabric of the universe never ceases to amaze me. All of these things are describable by or require mathematics. So, my interest in mathematics was rekindled, but it had changed. No longer did simply solving logical puzzles satisfy me, I desired to have an applied problem to model. I simmered with excitement at the questions mathematics allowed me to ask. Could you understand the population dynamics of bacteria, animals, the resurgence and prevalence of specific genes, the interactions between particles and chemicals? To me mathematics became an answer to these questions, interesting in its own right but more a tool to use for greater understanding. With this in mind I gave mathematics another chance. I chose to study it at University.

For me University had variable success in moving beyond that rote learning which I found unsatisfying. It was in research courses or particularly large projects and assignments where I could reclaim my old passion. Modelling phenomena became doubly interesting, not only for the interpretation of the model but also for the theory, understanding and application of the mathematics. Another shift had occurred. Modelling existing phenomena was the new puzzle and there was no “one piece” solution. Then, pure mathematics entered my view. There was rich theory and problems underlying the techniques I would use to formulate a model. A new interest. This field was like the puzzles of old. I could enjoy mathematics now for both the aspects I did early in life, as well as those from later. Understanding the model, its construction and interpretation as well as underlying theory all become satisfying and fulfilling. Now, I am happy with almost any mathematics put before me. I have come to enjoy it in great variety and will foster this love of mathematics as a lifelong interest and career.


Alexander Baker was one of the recipients of a 2015/16 AMSI Vacation Research Scholarship.