First ever Mathematics Reunion Day proves popular

Saturday 24 November saw the first ever Merton Mathematics Reunion Day in the College’s 754-year-long history. Mertonians were invited back to College to speak with their peers, engage with current students, and listen to special presentations from four guest speakers. The event was a runaway success and a great opportunity for organiser Professor Radek Erban to present the future directions of the subject in College, and for current undergraduates and graduates to share their research with a wider audience.

Kicking off with a lively—and surprisingly musical—session, Professor Jon Chapman’s (1986) presentation Eigenvalues and Eigenmodes: From Optical Fibres to Musical Saws led from waves on strings through acoustic cloaking to quantum oscillators, ending with a fine performance on the musical saw which enthralled the audience.

Alexandra Hewitt (1988) reflected on her own mathematical and musical career, telling the audience about her work as a musical tutor and with the Advanced Mathematics Support Programme and the encouraging rise in young women taking up courses in mathematics at A-level grade. Richard Kenyon (1956) gave an insight into maths at Merton in the late 1950s under the tutelage of Dr Philip Watson and his career in computing. Finally Professor Geoffrey Grimmett (1968) ended the day with a talk on The Self-Avoiding Walk, after Hammersley and Welsh (1962), his research building on the theorem particularly apt given that Professor Welsh was in the audience.

Other highlights of the day were the poster presentation and meet the students sessions, which showcased the work students had been involved in during the summer project scheme. Jenny Dingwall (2015) was one of the students who presented their research:

"The mathematical knowledge of the alumni varied from those who hadn’t practised mathematics since leaving university to those who pursued it into academia, which led to a great variety of conversations and interesting discussion. Not only did I learn of the differences between the current and previous ways in which mathematics was taught, but I was also able to see the variation in career paths of the graduates. I enjoyed interacting with the range of individuals and would very much like to attend any future reunions."

Francesca Lovell-Read (2014) presented a poster entitled The canary in the coal mine: How can surveillance for invasive plant pathogens be improved? She said:

"Many of the alumni really engaged with what I was talking about, and it was a real pleasure to discuss my findings with them. As well as talking about maths, it was fantastic to have the opportunity to ask them about their time at Merton and their subsequent experiences. Overall I think that the day was a great success and would definitely come back to Merton for it myself after I have graduated!"

Mathematics at Merton has been undergoing a somewhat revolutionary period during which more women, who have traditionally been under-represented, are becoming involved in the discipline. This was evident on the day, with current Mathematical Society President Zarshaaneh Qureshi proving very popular during the meet the students session, and Julia Stadlmann, who recently won the Dominic Welsh essay prize, presenting a poster.