Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Maths can help you thrive during the COVID-19 pandemic

When Isaac Newton practiced social distancing during the Great Plague that hit London in 1665, he was not expected to transition from face-to-face work with scientist colleagues to a patchwork of conference calls and email. With no children underfoot who needed care at home, he concentrated on developing early calculus ideas. With no exposure to a […]

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The remarkable life of philosopher Frank Ramsey

Frank Ramsey, the great Cambridge philosopher, economist, and mathematician, was a superstar in all three disciplines, despite dying at the age of 26 in 1930. One way to glimpse the sheer genius of this extraordinary young man is by looking at some of the things that bear his name. My favourite was coined by Donald […]

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Robot rats are the future of recycling

I just watched WALL-E for the first time in five years or so. It’s the story of a plucky little robot tasked with cleaning up the world by compacting rubbish into blocks and building structures out of the blocks to minimize the amount of land they take up. Of course, he falls in love and saves the […]

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Why academics announce plans for research that might never happen

Why do academic writers announce their plans for further work at the end of their papers in peer reviewed journals? It happens in many disciplines, but here’s an example from an engineering article: Additionally, in our future work, we will extend our model to incorporate more realistic physical effects . . . We will expand the detection […]

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Standing in Galileo’s shadow: Why Thomas Harriot should take his place in the scientific hall of fame

The enigmatic Elizabethan Thomas Harriot never published his scientific work, so it’s no wonder that few people have heard of him. His manuscripts were lost for centuries, and it’s only in the past few decades that scholars have managed to trawl through the thousands of quill-penned pages he left behind. What they found is astonishing—a glimpse into one of the best scientific minds of his day, at a time when modern science was struggling to emerge from its medieval cocoon.

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The ethics of the climate emergency

During the last few days of February we experienced the warmest Winter day since records began, with a high of 20.6 degrees (Celsius) at Trawscoed in mid-Wales. As if that was not enough, the record was broken again the next day with 21.2 degrees at Kew Gardens.

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150 Years of the Periodic Table

2019 marks the 150th anniversary of the creation of the periodic table, and it has been declared the International Year of the Periodic by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

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How Trump beat Ada’s big data

The Democratic Party’s 2008 presidential primary was supposed to be the coronation of Hillary Clinton. She was the most well-known candidate, had the most support from the party establishment, and had, by far, the most financial resources.

The coronation went off script. Barack Obama, a black man with an unhelpful name, won the Democratic nomination and, then, the presidential election against Republican John McCain because the Obama campaign had a lot more going for it than Obama’s eloquence and charisma.

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The dilemma of ‘progress’ in science

Most practicing scientists scarcely harbor any doubts that science makes progress. For, what they see is that despite the many false alleys into which science has strayed across the centuries, despite the waxing and waning of theories and beliefs, the history of science, at least since the ‘early modern period’ (the 16th and 17th centuries) is one of steady accumulation of scientific knowledge. For most scientists this growth of knowledge is progress. Indeed, to deny either the possibility or actuality of progress in science is to deny its raison d’être. 

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Laudable mathematics – The Fields Medal

Kicking off the International Congress of Mathematicians 2018 in Rio de Janeiro was this year’s Fields Medal awards ceremony, celebrating the brightest young minds in mathematics. The prize is awarded every four years to up to four mathematicians under the age of 40, and is viewed as one of the highest honours a mathematician can receive.

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Celebrating the Fields Medal [infographic]

This year, 2018, sees the world’s mathematics community come together once more at the International Congress of Mathematicians, hosted for the first time in South America in Rio de Janeiro. A highlight at every ICM is the announcement of the recipients of the Fields Medal, an award that honours up to four mathematicians under the age of 40, and is viewed as one of the highest honours a mathematician can receive. Here we honour past Fields Medal winners who we are proud to name as our authors. Hover over each name to learn a little more about who they are and what their contributions have been.

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The scientist as historian

Why should a trained scientist be seriously interested in science past? After all, science looks to the future. Moreover, as Nobel laureate immunologist Sir Peter Medawar once put it: “A great many highly creative scientists…take it for granted, though they are usually too polite or too ashamed to say so, that an interest in the history of science is a sign of failing or unawakened powers.”

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What is a mathematical model?

As a mathematician who focuses his attention on a field called dynamics, I am often asked when queried about my area of specialty, exactly what is a dynamical system? I usually answer something like: “I study the mathematics underlying what is means to model something mathematically.” And this seems to work as most people have a basic understanding that mathematics is used in science and engineering to model either a physical or an abstract process and to mine it for information.

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