Stories from our international boarding schools

Getting up close with Dr. Lewney “the Rock Doctor” & Simon Singh

The sprawling campus of Warwick greeted us as we alighted the bus, and the frigid wind blew away with it the last traces of sleepiness we had after our short nap in the bus. Warwick University is essentially an educational institution (in the UK top ten); yet the place hummed with its own energy, its own buzz. Only later did we find out Warwick University is not just an educational institute, but it is its own town of around 35,000 people. The students play citizens, shops and cafés dot the campus, and buses come and go with the regularity one can expect from a small town.

For our talk, we made our way to a massive auditorium, more than enough to seat at least a few hundred, if not a thousand and a little more. Our first speaker was Dr. Lewney, and we first saw this eccentric professor holding not a stack of papers or pen as one would usually attribute a professor to have in his hands, but an electric guitar, complete with flames printed on the body of the guitar. After being treated to a modified version of “Bohemian Rhapsody” (by the rock group Queen), with lyrics full of physics and mathematical puns, Dr. Lewney began his talk on how mathematics was not merely important for life as we know it to function, but it is silently ubiquitous, and one need only to pry into his surroundings to see how mathematics governs life.

He began with showing us how the 3G data network functions: 8 different signals of different wavelengths, translated into a series of ones and zeros grouped into threes emitted rapidly would transmit data from a network into our mobile phones. He challenged the audience to think what would happen if we had more signals, and maybe some mathematics embedded into it would change the 3G data network. A few voices guessed the 4G data network, and he then went on to explain it: 64 signals instead of 8, and instead of being a line of data, this network is plotted against a Cartesian plane, and the vectors between points would supply extra data. He shifted his lecture from data networks to a more tangible, albeit still abstract topic: bacteria growth. The Rock Doctor, as he liked to be known as, showed how a series of animated transformations of shaded and blank squares, when manipulated with certain equations would mimic how bacteria would look in a petri dish.

Science writer Simon Singh gave talk on Fermat’s Last Theorem, and the significance it carries amongst mathematicians. Simon Singh described Fermat’s habit of claiming brilliant feats in mathematics, but rather then prove them, offered excuses such as “the book has no space” and “I need to feed the cat”. One problem however stood out among the rest in a tome of mathematics problem. Question 8 states simply “For values of N above 2, there are no solutions for the equation a2 + b2 = c2 “. This deceptively simple problem went on to confuse and confound mathematicians for three hundred years until Andrew Wiles published his proof of the theorem in 1995.

These are the two most significant talks given that day. The speakers were brilliant people, each having devoted their lives to mathematics in some form. We left the auditorium that day tinged with wonder, and having gained an inkling to how mathematics really does pervade reality itself. On top of that, the visit to Warwick gave as a brief taste of what the campus was like, what its inhabitants were like and the knowledge we can gain over there.


Written by: Muhammad Ammar Sadid Bin Md Rashid, current student at EF Academy Oxford, IB Year 1


In a high-scoring heat against some of the best teams in the UK, the EF Academy Oxford Senior Mathematics Challenge Team recently came 5th out of 24 schools in Oxfordshire, Berkshire, and Buckinghamshire. The team was made up of Year 2 students Tung Ho (Leon) Lau and Iulia Bock, and Year 1 students Yu-Yuan Huang and Yu-Chun Huang. In addition, Yu-Yuan, Tung Ho (Leon) and Mattia Marrazzo were awarded Gold and go on to the Senior Kangaroo round in December.

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