Ronnie Brown: Allow Beautiful Minds to Thrive

Copyright 2005 TSL Education Limited
The Times Higher Education Supplement

September 16, 2005

SECTION: LETTER; No.1709; Pg.17
LENGTH: 448 words
HEADLINE: Allow Beautiful Minds To Thrive
BYLINE: Ronnie Brown


The British Association for the Advancement of Science warns that the research
assessment exercise does not recognise the importance of the public
communication of science ("Scientists want time to talk", September 9).
Experience in the mathematics faculty at Bangor was that the Teaching Quality
Assessment did not recognise it either.

This is a kind of travesty. Exploration, exposition and communication have for
centuries been recognised as essential to the progress of science.

Where would we be without Euclid's marvellous compilation of the geometry of his
day? Galileo, Faraday, Poincare, Klein, Hilbert, Einstein, Hoyle and Feynman
have all made public communication, and often disagreement with authority, an
important part of their work.

Our aim for the popularisation of mathematics has been, to modify Science
Minister Lord Sainsbury's words in the same issue of The Times Higher, to show
the public, students and the Government not only the important role that
mathematics plays in society, but also how it evolves.

Mathematics progresses partly through the solution of problems, but also through
clarification and good exposition, providing a developing language for
description, verification, deduction and calculation. It makes the difficult
easy. It works over a long timescale. It shows new possibilities through gradual
conceptual advance. It formulates new problems.

So mathematics is a foundation of the modern technological society. It is a
considerable challenge to try to show advanced mathematics from an elementary

Some results of our work in popularisation of mathematics at Bangor over the
past 20 years may be seen on our website www.popmath.org.uk. We have had strong
support from, among others, the patrons of the sculptor John Robinson, for
promoting his Symbolic Sculptures.

An unplanned consequence has been sculptures by Robinson at, for example,
Bangor, Cambridge, Durham and Macquarie universities.

This supports the aim of associating mathematics and science with art, and
demonstrates art as a mode of symbolising an idea.

Work in communicating to children and the general public ideas in mathematics
has helped us to analyse and express our programme, to communicate mathematical
concepts to fellow scientists and students, and so to interdisciplinary

For the future of the UK, the public communication of science and mathematics
should be supported financially and in career structure, and be part of the
assessment of the success of a university and of the vitality of research and
teaching teams.

Ronnie Brown Emeritus professor of mathematics University of Wales, Bangor

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