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Why does studying maths still add up? – University of Reading

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Why does studying maths still add up?

Release Date 07 March 2013

The University of Reading's Department of Mathematics and Statistics is internationally renowned for both teaching and research in mathematics, statistics and their applications. Head of the Department, Dr Beatrice Pelloni, was officially recognised as one of the leading female mathematicians in the world in 2011.

In the week the globe celebrates World Maths Day (6 March) Professor Peter Grindrod CBE, Director of the University of Reading's Centre for Maths of Human Behaviour, reflects on why maths is as important as ever, while statistician Dr Fiona Underwood discusses the Reading research which has this week contributed to the Prime Minister of Thailand's decision to ban the country's domestic ivory trade.

Why maths?

Professor Grindrod said: "Mathematics is a mysterious and compelling subject and is the underpinning of many sectors of the economy and our social lives. Many people think of maths as wisdom and practices that have been passed down from antiquity, but in fact it is a very vibrant and creative discipline that is moving rapidly at the leading edge of discovery.

"New maths is discovered every day. Many fields that you don't think about use state-of-the-art mathematics: digital advertising and marketing, cyber security and defence including counter terrorism, big-data analytics, computing and information technology, genomics and biology, energy and networks, social media analysis, weather and climate science and the fundamental understanding of molecules and material. None of this can happen without fundamental discoveries in maths."

An ivory tower fighting illegal ivory trade

This week, the world's biggest meeting of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, is taking place in Bangkok where a major report has been published on the illegal ivory trade. The key results in this report emanate from work by University of Reading statisticians Dr Underwood and Mr Burn, funded by the Darwin Initiative. They have been involved in a major revision of the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), a global database of reported seizures of illegal ivory that is run by TRAFFIC International.

Dr Underwood said: "One fantastic part of being a statistician is that we can work in depth on really interesting topics and help inform policy making. Some of our recent work for TRAFFIC International has contributed to pressure on the Thai government, and as a result the Prime Minister of Thailand has now promised to amend her country's laws to ban their domestic ivory trade.

"The ETIS data are the only extensive source of data on the illegal ivory trade. But we can't just say that the illegal ivory trade has increased if the number of records of seizures in ETIS has increased. This is because countries may become better or worse at making or reporting seizures to ETIS over time. Our job has been to understand and model how countries make and report seizures to ETIS so that we can take account of how these differ over time to produce our estimates of trends in the illegal ivory trade. The results showed that the illegal trade in ivory has trebled since 1998 and doubled since 2007. They also identified countries such as China and Thailand as major destinations of illegal ivory.

The Department is holding a visit day for students who have been offered a place at Reading on 13 and 20 March.

The Department achieved 100% for Overall Student Satisfaction in the 2012 National Student Survey for BSc Mathematics, putting it joint 1st in the table of NSS results for such courses, and achieved 98% for all programmes in the department, putting it joint 2nd in the table of NSS results for Mathematics and Statistics in the whole of the UK.

Over 85% of the Department's research was rated internationally recognised, internationally excellent, or world class in the most recent (2008) Research Assessment Exercise.



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