14 August 2013 16:25

Thirty of the UK's most talented young mathematicians came to Lancaster University for a four-day residential summer school.

The theme of the week was ‘Exploring Shape and Space’ and activities included lectures by Lancaster’s pure mathematicians, hands-on mini-projects and a long group project.

This Headstart course was arranged by the University with the Engineering Development Trust, a charity that provides hands-on STEM activities at top universities to encourage young people into science and technology-based careers.

One of the highlights was measuring various aspects of the university campus using only basic equipment. The students had to estimate the height of Bowland Tower, the speed of the university wind turbine and the surface area of Lake Carter.

Topics explored included Penrose tilings, fractals and rigidity of frameworks, a department specialism.  Rigidity has many applications to industry and an industrial collaborator of the department, Dr John Owen of Siemens, came to talk to the participants about how this research is important for computer-aided design.

Another related topic, tensegrity structures, made from bars and extensible cables (or elastic bands as they are better known) was guided by Lancaster lecturer Dr Bernd Schulze. The students created tensegrity structures of their own (as pictured).

Professor Peter Goodhew, from the Royal Academy of Engineering who attended the final day of the summer school, said: "It was delightful to see 30 mathematically-inclined youngsters engaging so successfully with open-ended challenges.

“Whether they go on to study mathematics or engineering, these highly-motivated Headstart participants will be a crucial part of the society of the future, which faces daunting challenges which can only be overcome with the help of engineers and mathematicians."

The summer school included a Grapevine session, linking academic subjects to careers and industry. This included the talk by Dr John Owen, and Lisa Mather, of the Engineering Development Trust, who spoke about the Year in Industry scheme.

Representing another of the Headstart sponsors, the ESRC, Dr Mike Killian, Leverhulme Visiting Fellow at the Tilda Goldberg Centre at the University of Bedfordshire, spoke about the use of statistics by social workers caring for families of young children who have received organ transplants.

More pictures may be found on the Faculty of Science and Technology and the EDT Headstart Facebook pages.

The summer school was organised by Dr Jan Grabowski, Outreach Officer for the department, and Dr James Groves, with topics also led by colleagues Dr Schulze and Dr Mark MacDonald. Six student helpers also made invaluable contributions to the academic work and social activities.