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Next generation's brightest have eyes opened to breadth of mathematics

This Spring, Lancaster University's inaugural Royal Institution Mathematics Masterclasses have brought the region's best GCSE maths pupils together to explore mathematics beyond their curriculum and discover that "maths isn't as difficult as you think - it's all about seeing patterns".

Thirty-seven pupils from nineteen schools in North Lancashire and South Cumbria met on six Saturday mornings at the university to hear talks and engage in problem-solving activities on a variety of topics in pure mathematics and statistics. These were led by academics from Lancaster and other UK institutions, with the support of local teachers.

In the classes, the pupils looked at how mathematics can solve problems from the practical, such as how companies should organise distributing stock between many locations, to the theoretical, including studying shapes in four or more dimensions. They learned how to use probability to survive a zombie apocalypse and how to estimate how big the Universe is. Even brain-swapping made an appearance, in a fun exercise based on the TV show "Futurama".

The reaction to the Masterclasses has been very positive with pupils saying that "this was absolutely brilliant and I have thoroughly enjoyed it" and that maths "gets a lot more complicated but interesting". They particularly appreciated finding out that "there is a lot more to [maths] than just numbers" and many were surprised to learn "just how much maths there is and how it is related to almost everything".

The Royal Institution Mathematics and Engineering Masterclasses are hands-on and interactive extracurricular sessions led by top experts from academia and industry for keen and talented young people all around the UK. The Lancaster-based series complements activities in Cumbria, Ormskirk and Manchester, all of whom provide series for year 9 pupils, as well as providing a next step for attendees of the Primary Masterclass series in Milnthorpe.

Organiser Dr Jan Grabowski, Outreach Officer for the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, said "it has been fantastic to see so much enthusiasm from all the participants and their willingness to dive into uncharted territory. Meeting others who love maths and want to find out more is going to be a very important experience and we hope that the glimpses of mathematics in its fullest sense will help sustain their interest thorough A-level and towards university study."

Speaking on behalf of the Royal Institution, Secondary Mathematics Masterclass coordinator Samantha Durbin said "The Royal Institution Mathematics Masterclasses aim to engage young people in the fascinating, beautiful and valuable world of mathematics. We are thrilled that this new series has run so successfully in Lancaster and hope that it has inspired the students, showing them that maths can lead to exciting and varied careers. We would like to thank all those who organised the series, as well as the range of teachers who helped at the Masterclass sessions."

Financial support from the Faculty of Science and Technology allowed the purchase of new equipment and resources, as well as enabling visits from two external speakers.

Invitations to schools to nominate pupils for the 2015 Masterclass series will be distributed in the autumn.

About the Royal Institution

The Royal Institution (Ri) has been at the forefront of public engagement with science for over 200 years and its purpose has always been to encourage people to think further about the wonders of science. It runs a national programme of Masterclasses for young people in mathematics, engineering and computer science, educational activities at the L'Oréal Young Scientist Centre and policy discussions with science students, an annual calendar of public events and the famous CHRISTMAS LECTURES®. And through its critically acclaimed science video platform, the Ri Channel, it shares the stories behind cutting-edge science with people around the world.

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Wed 26 March 2014