UP Maths Department hosts online celebration of International Maths Day

Posted on March 17, 2021

The Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics at the University of Pretoria (UP) recently hosted an online programme as part of the global virtual celebration of the International Day of Mathematics (IDM) on 14 March.

Also known as Pi Day, IDM is an opportunity to spotlight the essential role that mathematics and mathematics education play in breakthroughs in science and technology, and in improving our quality of life.

UP’s online event was a live stream on the department’s YouTube channel, and featured two lectures by prominent academics in mathematics and applied mathematics, as well as a panel discussion that explored mathematics education and research.

The online event was hosted by Dr Eder Kikianty and Dr Miek Messerschmidt, who are senior lecturers in the department. The first lecture of the day was delivered by Professor Jacek Banasiak, SARChI Chair in Mathematical Models and Methods in Biosciences and Bioengineering, who presented a lecture titled ‘Applied mathematics: past, present and future’. His contribution was followed by that of another esteemed academic, internationally renowned mathematician Prof James Raftery, who spoke on ‘Logic and mathematical discovery’.

Joining the two speakers in the panel discussion were acting Head of Department Prof Jan Harm van der Walt; Prof Kerstin Jordaan, a full professor in the Department of Decision Sciences at the University of South Africa (UNISA) and part-time executive director of the South African Mathematics Foundation; and Prof Bernardo Rodrigues of UP’s Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics.

Prof Banasiak spoke of his belief that mathematics plays a central role even in medical situations such as COVID-19. “Using basic logic, you come to understand that the more people you interact with, the higher your chances of contracting the virus,” he said. “Mathematics is also interwoven into a number of things, for example, the collection of data. Data about COVID-19 comes in large numbers, and if you make use of algorithms, you are able to sort through the data and make it useable.”

He added that most government responses and COVID-19 strategies were based on models created through using certain mathematical principles, which have allowed key moments in the virus’ trajectory to be predicted, in turn allowing governments the opportunity to prepare and tailor its response.

Panellists also shared personal anecdotes about the impact of COVID-19 on their lives. Prof Rodrigues said that, given the challenging circumstances, we are privileged to be living in the digital age. “There have been both personal and professional changes in my life. From a research perspective, I have had to alter the manner in which I do some things. I have had more time to interrogate some of the things that I have been doing. One of these is collaboration. It has become much easier to make plans with colleagues and begin working; it’s become almost routine.”

The IDM project is led by the International Mathematical Union with the support of several international and regional organisations all over the world. The reason 14 March was chosen as the date on which to commemorate IDM is because it was already celebrated in many countries as Pi Day, and the mathematical constant pi is approximately 3.14 (3/14 or 14 March).

Watch the full discussion:

- Author Masego Panyane

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