HCS Celebrates Women in Mathematics

Over 100 pupils from seven schools across the county attended our first conference to celebrate women in mathematics. The event was aimed at girls (and boys) who are considering A Level Mathematics and Further Mathematics and organised through the Further Mathematics Support Programme (FMSP). Embley Park was the family home of Florence Nightingale - who herself was a pioneering statistician.    

The keynote speaker was Noel-Ann Bradshaw, who was principal lecturer in mathematics and operational research at the University of Greenwich. Noel-Ann started the day by reflecting on HCS’s fascinating history of being the Nightingale’s family home by dramatically appeared dressed as Florence. She immersed the students in Florence’s remarkable journey through life and mathematics. While working as a nurse in Crimea, Florence Nightingale saw the dire state of the cleanliness in the hospitals. Using statistical diagrams, she showed the devastating effect that it had on the death toll in the war. Her innovative use of statistical diagrams clearly showed the public and the government the extent of the problem, leading to government action. Derivatives of these diagrams are still used in Mathematics and the changes in nursing have had a lasting impact.   

The students took part in a carousel of three workshops that had the titles: ‘Outbreak’, ‘Bubbles’ and ‘It’s a disaster’. ‘Outbreak’ was presented by Prof Christl Donnelly who is a statistician and epidemiologist at Imperial College London. She was also a leading member of the Ebola response team (2014-2016) and received a CBE in the 2018 New Year’s Honours for her work in disease control. This was an excellent opportunity to hear how researchers use Mathematics in today’s society for significant global change. In many ways, Prof Donnelly’s story mirrors Florence Nightingale’s with her use of data, influencing government policy and having a huge impact on healthcare.    

‘Bubbles’ started with the challenge that we can mathematically link trees, towns and bubbles. Through an exploration of a Further Mathematics module (called decision mathematics), the students were guided to problem solve in groups to independently discover the connections. The workshop finished with a beautiful moment when bubbles were created that matched the Mathematics they had been working on.   

Former President Barack Obama introduced the task for the final workshop - ‘It’s a disaster!’ His public address after the Chilean Earthquake in 2010 set up the situation and need for an organised response for aid. The students were given the task of organising the aid, they needed to sift through the information to decide what was important and use Mathematics to find what was the best possible course of action.    

This event marked not only a celebration of one woman’s dedication to reason and the use of statistical analysis to form and shape arguments for the benefit of others, but served as an opportunity to inspire, educate and open windows of wonder and possibility for students.

Author: CW

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