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As a child I remember being enthusiastic about two things in particular. The first was dinosaurs and the second was space exploration. I was too young to have experienced the excitement of the Apollo program but devoured as much as I could about it from books. I also thought books about dinosaurs were equally cool. For some reason the numerical facts that were included in the books really stuck in my mind and helped me get a sense of the topics. I remember telling everyone that one complete rotation of the earth on its own axis was 23 hours, 56 minutes (rather than 24 hours) because I had read that in one of the books. These numbers and what they represent really help us get an understanding of topics and context. This is just one reason why a grasp of numeracy is extremely important and should not be underestimated.

Without numbers, measurements and timelines it is difficult to get a sense of when things happen, how they happen and in what context. So perhaps you are someone who doesn’t want to study particularly complicated mathematical theory, however, a grasp of the simpler aspects of mathematics and numeracy may help you better understand something you feel is unrelated to mathematics but that you have a great deal of interest in. I have recently read biographies of Queen Victoria and King Edward VII. Once I got a sense of when Victoria’s children were born, when they married into other royal families and how old they and their children were in 1914, and how much influence they exerted, I suddenly found that I had a far greater understanding than I had previously of the political landscape during the First World War, and the years preceding it.

As we go deeper into mathematics, we find that it is absolutely crucial to science; it is the language of science and a universal way of communicating scientific theory and findings. Understanding mathematics opens many doors for people, even ones once thought closed. As a 13 year old I had to choose GCSE options to study. I remember having to make a choice between German and Biology. I chose German and so never studied Biology to GCSE level, let alone A level. But, thanks to my background in mathematics, I now find myself working with other scientists on research projects and collaborative industrial projects that are directly related to biology – mathematical models of tumour growth, the study of population dynamics decision-making in immunology, to name just three. As a 16 year old I would never have considered that these were viable avenues for me without a Biology GCSE qualification; it is my knowledge of mathematics and my scientific curiosity that has allowed this to happen.

As British Science Week is upon us, I am thinking about aspects of British science that have influenced me in my professional work. One that comes to mind is the work of Thomas Robert Malthus. He published An Essay On The Principle of Population in 1798. Whilst the original model is somewhat simpler than population models we see being developed and analysed today and some of his assumptions, thoughts and conclusions may be disagreed with, the original groundwork in his model related to geometric growth can still be found within many, modern mathematical models. Understanding the long-term trends in populations of different species is crucial to helping us understand the effects of climate change. At a microscopic level we find another use for population dynamics; for example we can consider a tumour to be a population of cells and see if our work on population models will aid in our understanding of how tumours grow.

To implement mathematical models we often need to use computers and algorithms. I became fascinated with computer programming at a young age, when I was introduced to the now legendary ZX Spectrum computer. Again, thinking about British science, a lot of achievements would not have been possible without the pioneering work of Ada Lovelace, a mathematician who was the first computer programmer. So much of our technology today relies on these early computational breakthroughs.

If you want to find out a bit more about the important role of mathematics in science then I suggest checking out the following:

Plus Magazine

Finding Ada

The Model Muddle: In Search of Tumor Growth Laws

Thomas Malthus English Economist and Demographer

To find out more about studying Mathematics at Chester, then why not visit us at one of upcoming events?


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