Maths Week Scotland: Update

Monday 18 September 2017
Some happy visitors – Dr Isobel Falconer (School of Maths) , Ali Floyd (Science Communicator and Scottish Government’s Maths Week Scotland representative), Professor Ursula Martin (formerly Professor of Computer Science in St Andrews, now of the Mathematical Institute, University of Oxford) and Professor Malcolm Dunn (Physics).

Maths Week Scotland included lots of activity in St Andrews.

The Library’s Special Collections Division was really pleased to be able to take Maths treasures out into the School of Maths last Thursday. Our display was visited by about 70 people, from foundation students, undergraduates passing by on their way to and from advising, staff invited by the Head of School and school pupils. The whole Advanced Higher Maths Class from Madras College came specially, along with their teacher Mrs Soares, and they saw some amazing things – a book bearing Galileo’s signature, a 1509 printing of Euclid, a copy of Newton’s Principia, and mathematical letters of Fermat (printed) and James Gregory, John Collins and Isaac Newton (manuscript). After a couple of hours in the main corridor of the School of Mathematics and Statistics, we packed everything up and moved to the Napier Reading Room at Martyrs Kirk, where we added more treasures into the mix.

The show and tell for the afternoon included works by Napier himself, Stifel, Tunstall, Laplace, Mary Somerville, Euler, Lobachevskii, Gauss and Kepler. We also featured mathematical biologist D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson’s work on transformation. One of the unique items on display was a fair copy book kept by James Walker, a pupil at Madras College in 1852. This has 80 pages of neatly written questions and answers for geometry and arithmetic, solving problems phrased with a contemporary relevance: “find the weight of an iron ball, of which the diameter is 6.41 inches”. The book has military sketches of the Crimea and of St Andrews, to liven up the maths. After the maths display, the hardy visitors went on to a mathematical walking tour of St Andrews, visiting sites of mathematical and scientific interest. We are most grateful to Dr Isobel Falconer, Reader in the History of Maths, for all her help with the events, and to Professor Thomas Neukirch for his encouragement and welcome.

Rachel Hart
Keeper of Manuscripts and Muniments


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