Making maths work

5th August 2015

News, Student news, Alumni news

Promising young mathematicians from across Europe have gathered at Wadham to talk maths for six weeks in a programme funded by the Clay Mathematics Institute and Wadham donors.

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Taking part in the Program in Mathematics for Young Scientists, PROMYS Europe, the students, aged 16 to 18, have been carefully selected for their ability and potential in maths.

Mentoring the students are five counsellors, some of whom are former PROMYS participants from the maths summer schools held at Wadham and in Boston in previous years.

Wadham Undergraduate Ben Walker (2013, Mathematics) is a counsellor on the programme, mentoring students, marking daily problem sheets and providing feedback. “We are doing really interesting maths and already the students are making a lot of progress,” he commented. The counsellors also organise a variety of social activities for the participants.

“They teach themselves as much as possible, playing and experimenting with numbers”, said Vicky Neale, Whitehead Lecturer at the Maths Institute and Balliol, who is leading the Oxford programme with PROMYS Director Glenn Stevens. “This is a fantastic opportunity for the students to come to Oxford to immerse themselves in mathematics and be with other students who share their excitement for the subject. By working in groups at this level they are getting to grips with learning habits and ways of thinking which will stand them in good stead when they get to University”,  she added.

18 year old Nina Hronkovičová from Slovakia is new to the programme: “It is difficult and although I was able to solve most of the problems on today’s worksheet, I am still struggling with a few.” Working with her is Counsellor Andreea Iorga who was a student on the programme two years ago and is now studying Maths and Computer Science at Merton College. “I always thought I wanted to study in Oxford but after my experience at Wadham with PROMYS two years ago I was absolutely sure.”

Wouter Andriessen (17) from Belgium is learning new techniques, very different from what he has experienced in school: “I never thought of proving elementary problems by using lists of fundamental properties – it’s a whole new way of learning.”

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  • A lecture with Glenn Stevens in the Maths Institute

    A lecture with Glenn Stevens in the Maths Institute

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Each day, the students have lectures and are set a number of problems which they are asked to solve collaboratively. One highlight of the course is a guest lecture by Sir Andrew Wiles, Royal Society Research Professor at the University of Oxford.

This is the first time that the entire six week progamme has taken place in Oxford, organised in partnership with Wadham College, the University of Oxford Mathematical Institute and the Clay Mathematics Institute (CMI). Wadham’s Senior Research Fellow, Professor of Mathematics and CMI President Nick Woodhouse has been instrumental in bringing the PROMYS programme to Oxford. The Oxford programme is a spin off from a programme run annually at Boston University and led by Director Glenn Stevens.  Glenn has run PROMYS in Boston for more than 25 years and through the programme, has had an extraordinary impact on University mathematics in the USA. Approximately 50 percent of PROMYS alumni have gone on to study for doctorates, with many becoming maths professors, garnering numerous publications in prestigious journals.

Thanks to financial support of CMI and Wadham donors, student selection is on a needs blind basis, with full funding available for travel and participation for those who need it.  The selection process for both students and counsellors is thorough and highly competitive.
Sir Andrew Wiles commented: "PROMYS has done very impressive work over many years in creating an environment in Boston in which young mathematicians from all over the United States can immerse themselves in serious mathematical problems over several weeks, without distraction. It is an exciting development that PROMYS and the Clay Institute have now opened up the same opportunity in Europe." 

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