BRISBANE, FRIDAY 26 JUNE, 2015: When someone says they are a mathematician or describes their research, it is natural to wonder why it is useful. Why do we need it? How will it affect me?
What may seem like an abstract study today may end up being part of the cure for cancer tomorrow or new wi-fi technology in five years.
On 29 June, Senator Bridget McKenzie will open the 11th annual AMSI Winter School, at The University of Queensland in Brisbane, reminding us of the importance of theoretical mathematical research — that beautiful mathematics often turns out to be useful mathematics.
Mathematicians in the 1860s were not thinking about computer graphics when studying two-dimensional differential geometry. And in 1822, how could Joseph Fourier have known his research into heat flow would transform the way we process, store and transmit information. This led to a transformation in the way we live as profound as that caused by the Industrial Revolution. It has also resulted in huge advances in medical diagnostic therapies such as MRI and PET.
As in the 1800s, humans today cannot see into the future; we cannot begin to imagine the infinite possibilities discoveries in fundamental mathematics may have in centuries to come.
The famous astronomer and polymath Galileo Galilei said that the book of nature is written in the language of mathematics. So, by developing an understanding of symmetry, structure, geometry and other mathematical constructs we may be able to reveal the patterns of nature.
Einstein’s 1915 theory of general relativity asserted that the presence of mass distorts the geometry of space and time in a way described by the mathematics developed by Bernhard Riemann sixty years earlier. A critical experimental test of this geometrical theory of gravity required the occurrence of a solar eclipse.
While the development of physics and mathematics may proceed along different paths, each fundamental theory in physics has a corresponding specific mathematical structure, for general relativity this is Riemannian geometry and for quantum mechanics it is the Hilbert space.
These descriptions of nature are works of mathematical beauty and affect our everyday lives. We couldn’t decode the human genome, build aeroplanes or have millions of people talking on their phones across the world simultaneously without mathematics.
A Winter School on Algebra, Geometry and Physics to grow tomorrow’s Einsteins.
The AMSI Winter School gives Australian students the chance to expand their skills in the mathematical sciences and build collaborative networks with other students and early career researchers. They will also hear from leading international experts from USA and Canada as well as domestic experts from across the nation.
The school will also present a Women in Maths evening designed to highlight the contribution of women in mathematics and provide a forum for discussion of career paths.
— ends —
WOMEN IN MATHS EVENT:
Thursday 2 July, Science Learning Centre 5-7pm
The Glass Bead Game
Tuesday 7 July, The Edge, Queensland State Library, 6pm
Professor Arun Ram, University of Melbourne