Aged between 16 and 19, each of the participants in the six week PROMYS summer programme shares not only a passion for mathematics, but also a talent for the subject.
Wadham College Sub Warden and Director of the Clay Mathematics Institute, Nicholas Woodhouse commented: “They are an extraordinarily bright group of secondary school students from all over Europe. The quality of applications to the programme was extremely high.”
“So far we have seen a different approach to maths and it is interesting to discover new areas of maths. The course is fast-paced with some tricky problems to solve but the lectures save you, explaining the problems that you might not have been able to solve on your own or in groups,” commented one participant from Finland.
“It has been great fun so far. At first everyone was nervous but now we’re getting used to being here and when we are doing the maths we are all more relaxed. We work together and it’s not competitive – you’re not trying to be best,” he added.
The students are joined by seven mentors and counsellors, undergraduates from across Europe, including two Oxford students from Wadham and Merton. Each day, the students have lectures and are set a number of problems which they are asked to solve collaboratively. Glenn Stevens (Boston University), Henry Cohn (Microsoft and MIT) and Vicky Neale (Oxford) lead the programme, and lecture on number theory and group theory. Divided into small groups for ‘exploration labs’, the students consider such topics as calculus of finite differences; partitions and compositions; three-dimensional algebras; shuffling cards; trigonometry; Pick’s Formula and Euler’s Theorem.
Guest lecturers include Wadham Fellow David Conlon, Kevin Buzzard (Imperial College), Sarah Zerbes (UCL), Jennifer Balakrishnan (Oxford) , Thomas Bloom (Bristol) and Kevin Hughes (Bristol).
This is the second time that an entire six week PROMYS programme has taken place in Oxford, organised in partnership with Wadham College, the University of Oxford Mathematical Institute and the Clay Mathematics Institute (CMI). 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.
Describing the application process, a participant from Newcastle said: “My maths teacher suggested I should apply. The application problems were interesting – unlike anything I had done before and some seemed as if they had no definite answer.”
Thanks to financial support from CMI, Wadham and other Oxford donors, student selection is on a needs-blind basis, with full funding available for travel and participation for those who need it. The participants are based at Wadham with their classes taking place in the Andrew Wiles Building.
“This programme is transformational, it give the participants the opportunity to think deeply and to exchange ideas with others who share their excitement for the subject. The ability to immerse themselves in mathematics has a profound effect on those who take part in the programme,” said Vicky Neale, Whitehead Lecturer at the Maths Institute and Balliol College.
“I’ve really enjoyed meeting people from other countries and it makes you consider the possibility of studying abroad after school,” added a participant from Romania.