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EF Academy Oxford visits the Mathematical Institute of Oxford University

EF Academy Oxford visits the Mathematical Institute of Oxford University

What kind of building is a mathematicians’ building? On a breezy mid-afternoon in late September in Oxford, Year 1 students studying mathematics at EF Academy Oxford were given the opportunity to visit the acclaimed and recently-constructed Mathematical Institute of Oxford University.

At precisely 2:45 p.m., 25 students assembled at the reception and were then accompanied by three Faculty members; Grahame, Nick and Richard to the Andrew Wiles Building, which is the mathematical department in the University of Oxford. Sir Andrew Wiles is a British Mathematician and Royal Society Research Professor at Oxford University, and specializes in number theory.

Upon arrival at the Andrew Wiles building, we saw what is called the “Penrose tiling” (named after Mathematician and Physicist Sir Roger Penrose), right in front of the entrance, mathematical sets which depict the application of mathematics in real life. We were then given a tour by the External Relations Manager, Dyrol Lumbard, at the Mathematical Institute, who told us about the structure of the building.

We learned that the Andrew Wiles Building was completed in 2013, and that it provides individual workspaces for over 500 mathematicians. As part of the design process, the users were consulted on what the building should be like. The Mathematicians said: (1) they wanted to talk to people only when they wanted to; (2) they wanted the building to represent mathematics; (3) they wanted to have a quiet space. So the mathematicians were given individual spaces, rather than an enormous room in which they would work alongside many other mathematicians (the arrangement common in a standard university library). Nonetheless, in case of the need for mathematical discussion, a common room or lounge was also built. In this space, as well as there being whiteboards, tables can also be used as whiteboards, and even the windows, too, were designed for doing mathematics.

Another key feature of the Andrew Wiles Building is its special sound-absorbing construction, which was also the architects’ response to the request of the mathematicians to help create the quietness necessary for intense concentration. To promote a similar atmosphere of calm, the flights of stairs present in this building are not obtrusive: they were designed as a zig-zag shape that connects beautifully – logically – all existing floors with one another. There is mathematical meaning in all aspects of the building. Even the glass located above the cafeteria has a special form that resembles the form of soundwaves.

This trip undeniably opened up our horizons as we learned that mathematics also underpins our understanding of aspects of human life and study as diverse as medicine and social media. Mathematics is not just a subject involving sums or equations in a room: it is life, the universe, and everything!

This blog post was a co-collaboration between Aruzzhan Kani and Boudicca Mahaseth. Photos are courtesy of Peter Grinde and Tora Skrivahaug.