‘It All Adds Up’ Oxford Trip.

On Monday the 8th January, 12 students (myself - Juliet, Arathi, Hafsa, Maathuria, Nusrat, Amish, Abirami, Shreya, Shama, Kian, Saghana and Parkkavi) had the amazing chance to attend an event held at Oxford University to inspire girls to continue maths. Accompanied by Mr McIntosh and Mr Varley, we visited Oxford University to attend lectures which engaged us in challenging maths problems, and explained mathematics could be used alongside other subjects in solving more difficult questions.

Arriving to Oxford, the first lecture was on ‘Maths vs Disease’ by Julia Gog.  Professor Gog spoke about how mathematics could be used to fight infectious disease.  She started by speaking about influenza and their genomes. They have 8 segments that each encode different genes, which are essential for influenza to function.  We had to use probability to find out how influenza manages to take the 8 specific segments it needed once it was inside a human cell in a big, mixed up pile.  This is called the ‘packaging problem’.  The first solution is random packaging and, once you do the maths, the sum ends up being 8!/88=0.0024.  So the chances of getting a complete set of 8 segments is less than 1 in 400, which means this solution is very unlikely correct.  The second solution was keep packaging, where, as the name suggest, the influenza virus keeps taking segments until it has a full set of 8.  After some calculations, the mean average of taking 8 different segments is rounded to 22. This means the virus would have to take 22 segments until it gets 8 different segments that the virus needs to function. Finally, the last solution was specific packaging, which is a hypothesis that the segments are encoded and send out signals to the virus telling it that it is segment 2 or 3.

After a break, the students attended a Masterclass by Tom Crawford. He taught us how, using maths, we could identify the perfect penalty kick in football (you should kick in what is called the ‘unsaveable zone’ – see the illustration below!).

Goal graph

You should aim outside of the blue semicircle to give yourself a higher chance of scoring. He then spoke about the Coriolis force. This, in terms of sports, means the further you are from the equator (angle 0) the more effort you have to put in just to, for example, run in a straight line. However, this doesn’t take into consideration other factors, like heat…Other answers identified by mathematics included the best place in the world to attempt a world record and even the extent of the human limit.

Then came the ‘Big Questions’ lecture. It asked questions such as ‘How much of the ocean is plastic?’, ‘How much land would be used if everyone became vegan?’ and ‘How many solar panels would be needed to power the earth?’. We began by finding out the radius of the earth through only asking someone how long it took them to get to America and what the time difference was. We then had to use rounding to figure out how much water we saved by turning off the tap when we brush out teeth. Finally, we went back to our original questions and tried to solve them through estimation, rounding and logic.

The penultimate activity was called ‘Hands-on maths’ and was where you did problem solving questions. The Bentley Wood girls split themselves randomly and both groups worked through a series of complicated logic maths problems. For example, one question asked: There is a corridor of lightbulbs numbered 1 to 1000. They all start off. If you pull the string you turn it off, pull the string again it turns it back off etc. A group of people numbered 1 to 1000 wait at one end of the corridor. They go through the corridor and turn on their lightbulb and all the multiples of it e.g person 2 switches on 2, 4, 6,8, 10 etc.

Find which lightbulbs would be switched on if:

  1. Everyone went through
  2. Only even numbered people went through
  3. Only odd people went through

Finally, the last talk was by a woman called Vicky Neale. It was an interactive talk on the importance of prime numbers. “Prime numbers have intrigued, inspired and infuriated mathematicians for millennia and yet mathematicians’ difficulty with answering simple questions about them reveals their depth and subtlety.”

The girls found the day exciting, captivating and absorbing. It showed the infinite amount of ways we use maths in the world and how important it is.

Juliet  Year 10