Mathematics and Science Ambassador: Year Two

4 March 2015

I want to start by wishing a happy new year to you all.

Now for early March, I know that can make me look like someone who really doesn't let go of the 'happy new year' thing, but in early March, the university has a lovely New Year feel.

Thousands of first time students join tens of thousands of returnees and the campus springs to life again.

For me there is also a sense of renewal as I enter my second year as Mathematics and Science Ambassador at Australia's oldest university.

Adam Spencer takes a selfie with first year science students of 2015
Adam Spencer takes a selfie with first year science students of 2015

The last week of February saw the university's Faculty of Science O'Week reception welcome hundreds of curious, excited new minds to its family. The message I shared on the day was that now, more than ever, Australia needs our best and brightest to be applying themselves to matters scientific. The thought that in that room before me were people who would one day make research breakthroughs in diverse fields from genetic therapies to food science, and from astrophysics to designing new materials, was enlivening.

And of course, I let my bias show by putting in a big plug for my discipline, mathematics. The story I quote to anyone who will listen (or read) comes from late last year when I was hosting the presentation of grants by the Australian Cancer Research Foundation, an amazing body that has given over $100 million dollars to local cancer researchers over the last 30 years! When I interviewed legendary Australian scientist Professor Roger Reddell, he confessed, "Adam, if I was starting in my field today, I would do maths. Of course I'd do genetics as well, but in many ways the future of cancer research is mathematics."

My geeky maths heart swelled with pride when Roger said this, but he is right: in this world of 'big data' where a single experiment with a cutting edge piece of equipment can produce more information in a few days than a scientist of 30 years ago would generate in their entire career, we need mathematical modellers, biostatisticians and computer coders to help sift through the noise and see what the data is really telling us. I like to say that mathematics was the original science and over time many other branches of science grew from it, but now in the 21st century, it's all converging back to maths!

So to all our new students, of mathematical and all other scientific bents: a sincere welcome. And to all our science teachers, from primary school to professorial: keep inspiring young minds to want to understand more about how our world works.

Happy new year!

Adam Spencer
Adam Spencer

Adam Spencer is the University of Sydney's Mathematics and Science Ambassador, the first time such a role has been created at an Australian university. Adam has been a popular media presenter for almost twenty years. His passion for science led him to host ABC television programs Quantum and FAQ and to form the scientific comedy duo Sleek Geeks with Dr Karl.