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Maths of Planet Earth | Limitless Applications


Published on May 30th, 2013 | by Stephanie


Thomas Brown

Position: Student and Tutor, University of Adelaide

How do you introduce yourself at parties?
Failed musician, aspiring mathematician. Or the other way around.

Why mathematics?
What I value most about mathematics is the depth of knowledge one can acquire and the variety of fields it can be applied to.
I studied Engineering because I wanted to understand how things work. Ironically, most of the content was rushed or skipped over, such that I had a very superficial understanding of things. When I transferred to Mathematics, I found the courses very detailed and well structured. This allowed me to gain a deep understanding of the content.

I also have a fear of becoming too specialised, and mathematics gives you the option to apply your skills to a wide variety of fields. Whereas a biology researcher may spend a career working on one particular biological mechanism, a mathematician may contribute work to such an application and then look at something different, for example fluid mechanics. A statistician may analyse data from a medical trial one day, and sporting data another. In this way a maths graduate can have a great deal of variety in their work.

Do you think that mathematicians deserve the “geek” tag?
Mathematics is a real mixed bag. In my cohort there are a great deal of creative minds with very right-brain-leaning personal interests. I also find the “geeks” in Mathematics to have a gentler spirit than those of other disciplines.
What area of mathematics and why?
Biology related areas – bioinformatics, biostatistics, mathematical biology. I was always torn between studying something that I thought would make an impact on the world, and content that got me excited. I thought I sold myself out of helping society when I started studying Mathematics, but it turned out that mathematics and statistics are very much in demand for the great discoveries of our time in medical research. Mathematicians are working in multi-disciplinary research environments to make discoveries that can help countless people in the future. This combination of interesting content and potential to work in areas of need is what got me into biology-related maths.

What has maths done for you lately?
I was recently reading an article presenting ‘compelling statistics’ that were interpreted qualitatively using pie charts and plots –  as in “The graph goes up, therefore…”. While “Lies, damned lies, and statistics” may be a little alarmist, understanding statistics has made me more critical of the findings of such reports, and made me less willing to accept people’s interpretations of data at face value without strong quantitative evidence.

Do you have a favourite application or theory of maths?
Climate modelling is an interesting field because of its rich complexity and potential to help us understand the world around us.

Thomas Brown was a recipient of an 2012/13 AMSI Vacation Research Scholarship to find out more about this program – click here [subscribe2]

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