A meeting of mathematical minds

By Kalvin Gavrilov.

I joined thirteen students from year nine of Whitley’s John Madejski Academy (JMA) on a day trip to Reading University in March this year, organised by the JMA’s head of mathematics, Mrs Pareek.

The day began with a prompt departure from the JMA on Hartland Road to ensure that we were on time to meet the mathematics undergraduates who were going to help us out. They first spoke about life at the university and its history, which began 92 years ago. They said that since then, the university has reached the top 1% of universities worldwide [note 1], with particular attention paid to agriculture, zoology and business!

Mathematical tables from Fayyum, Egypt, sixth or seventh century. Five columns of Greek numerals demonstrating division by eight (photo: University of Pennsylvania Libraries via Wikimedia Commons).

We then were given a talk about the significance of maths; it stretches all the way back to ancient Greece. Numbers seem to have always been a concept, and not necessarily just by humans; animals may be able to understand basic mathematics too! The university students told us that maths is at the foundation of everything: physics requires mathematical formulas to work out the motion of an object; English poetry may require the use of counting syllables to create a rhythm; history requires the measure of time and geography requires the use of longitude and latitude to calculate absolute location. Maths really can benefit your understanding of the world!

To test our logical reasoning, we were then divided into groups to solve and crack the codes scattered across the lecture hall; the codes revealed the name of a well-known mathematician.

Finally, after a while of scribbling out wrong codes and running up and down the hall to find the next one, one group cracked the code! The mathematician’s name was Alan Turing. He designed one of the world’s first electronic computers to crack the Nazi’s Enigma Code, a code used by Germans during the second world war for secret communication. Did you know that the computer Turing used was called the Colossus Computer? Yep, it was huge; it took up the space of a room!

Alan Turing’s “Colossus” computer at Bletchley Park (photo: Ian Petticrew via Wikimedia Commons).

Following that and lunch, we were taken for a campus tour. We visited the largest lecture hall there, the shops and businesses that are operated by university students and finally, one of the university’s own three museums – the Cole Museum of Zoology [note 2]!

To close the day, we were tested on our mathematical abilities in calculating the temperature of a city in the UK. For example, if the temperature of Liverpool was 10 degrees on a certain day, we could estimate what the temperature of Birmingham would be the day after, whilst taking in account factors such as wind speed. Almost as if there was a strong wind, we got blown away at how complicated the process is but we persevered!

Before the minibus drove us back to the JMA, one student said that “the day was fun and changed my view on how important maths really is!”

“On top of that,” said another, “it was a great excuse to be off timetable!”

“The students were a credit to the academy as they showed a positive attitude to learning new skills whilst maintaining team spirit,” said Mrs Pareek.


[1] The UK Advertising Standards Authority requested that Reading University remove this claim from their website in June 2017 on the grounds that it could not be substantiated.

[2] The University’s three museums are the Cole Museum of Zoology, the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology and the Museum of English Rural Life. They are all free and open to the public.

  1. John Madejski Academy
  2. Reading University

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