Posted January 4th 2018

Maths outreach from St Hugh’s Dr Tom Crawford

St Hugh’s mathematics tutor and Naked Mathematician Dr Tom Crawford has been very busy this past term bringing his unique style of maths to audiences across the UK.

Tom previously worked for the Naked Scientists public engagement team at the University of Cambridge helping to produce and present a weekly science programme for BBC Radio 5 Live and ABC Australia, where audiences could reach up to one million weekly listeners. Since taking up a teaching position at St Hugh’s, he has launched his own outreach programme via his website tomrocksmaths.com and his YouTube channel @tomrocksmaths, with the aim of popularising maths amongst the general public.

In October Tom presented two talks as part of the St John’s College Inspire Programme, which aims to raise the aspirations of pupils at non-selective state schools in the London Boroughs of Harrow and Ealing. The first talk at Acton High School discussed the science of food and how we can use maths to help to improve our diets, whilst at Bentley Wood High School the focus shifted to the maths that can be found all around us in nature, from spiralling shells to sunflower seeds.

November saw Tom return to two institutions that have helped to shape his academic career so far: Bridgewater High School and the University of Cambridge. The Cambridge maths society, the Archimedeans, invited Tom as a guest speaker to talk about his transition from maths researcher to maths communicator. The talk was well attended and students praised the interactivity of the presentation, with constant audience participation actively encouraged. Tom then went back home to Warrington and Bridgewater High School to run a series of maths masterclasses throughout the day and to speak at the school’s annual awards evening celebrating high-achieving students. The theme of the speech was ‘making the most of your opportunities in life’ and the story of distilling pure ethanol to make cocktails on-board a research cruise in the Southern Ocean was a particular favourite amongst teachers, parents and students alike. 

At the end of November, in what was perhaps the most exciting event of the year, Tom spoke to 700+ A-level students at the Maths in Action day hosted by the University of Warwick. The talk ‘Maths v Sport’ was very well received by both the students and teachers, likely owing to the live penalty shootout that took place on stage… (which of course was won by the students).

The year ended with the launch of Tom’s new ‘Funbers’ series on BBC radio, where each week we learn the fun facts about numbers that we didn’t realise we’ve secretly always wanted to know. So far, we’ve had 0, 1, the square root of 2, the golden ratio and 2, with a Christmas special on the 12 days of Christmas featuring over the holidays. Tom even managed to rope in his aptly named friend from Cambridge, Bobby Seagull of University Challenge fame, to help out with the bird-themed verses of the song.

Tom’s outreach work will continue in the new year with talks already confirmed for the ‘It All Adds Up’ conference for girls in January, the Oxford Invariants Maths Society in February and the Cambridge Science Festival in March, as well as several school talks in London and at the Cherwell School in Oxford. There will also be new videos continuing the ‘Equations Stripped’ and ‘I Love Mathematics’ series, as well as further ‘Pokémaths’ and ‘Thesis Explained’ articles on tomrocksmaths.com. In the meantime, be sure to follow all of Tom’s activities on social media via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.