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Monday, 16 March 2015, 6:00PM
Barnard's Inn Hall

Two Losses Make a Win: How a Physicist Surprised Mathematicians

Professor Tony Mann

One of the most extraordinary pieces of new mathematics was a discovery by the Spanish physicist Juan Parrondo, who was building a computer simulation of an effect in quantum theory. One has two simple coin-tossing games, each of which favours one's opponent. Suppose at each turn one chooses randomly which losing game to play. Astonishingly, this random switch between two unfavourable games can produce a favourable one. (For those who find this hard to believe, I will provide a demonstration!)

Parrondo's Paradox has been used to explain the behaviour of viruses, and offers investors the potential to reduce the risk in their portfolios.

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Professor Tony Mann has taught mathematics and computing at the University of Greenwich for over twenty years. He was President of the British Society for the History of Mathematics from 2008 to 2011 and is editor of the Newsletter of the London Mathematical Society.

He has always been fascinated by the interface between mathematics and computing, and he began his career writing software for the mathematical modelling of power plants in the electricity supply industry. Since moving into academia he has taught subjects ranging from abstract algebra and the history of mathematics to digital media and human factors in computing. He also seeks to promote his subject to different audiences, and is active in outreach events for school students and the general public. He has spoken at Gresham College about prehistoric Scottish stone balls and used computer simulation to calculated π to astonishing accuracy at the British Science Festival.

Professor Mann was appointed a National Teaching Fellow in 2008 and received the Times Higher Award for Innovative Teacher of the Year in 2010, both honours reflecting the success of the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Greenwich of which he was Head between 2002 and 2010.

Recent publications include an edition of the collected papers of the mathematician William Burnside (co-edited with Peter Neumann and Julia Tompson), and a book chapter on mathematics in Victorian Scotland (written with Alex Craik), and he is now editing, with Mary Croarken and Raymond Flood, a book of essays on the history of mathematics at Greenwich.

With Christopher Good, he has just completed a project for the National Higher Education STEM Programme, creating teaching resources on “Being a Professional Mathematician”, which involved interviewing practising mathematicians about their work and the culture of being in their profession. He also maintains a blog about mathematics at www.tonysmaths.blogspot.co.uk.

His lectures as Visiting Gresham Professor of Computing Mathematics will look at the mathematics of computing, and vice versa: topics ranging from how computers (and people) do arithmetic to how pure mathematicians use computers to prove theorems.  They will consider what can go wrong, how computers sometimes get the wrong answer, and the ingenuity mathematicians have used in overcoming the problems inherent in working with computers.  Since Gresham Professors such as Henry Briggs, Edmund Gunter and, more recently, Louis Milne-Thomson were pioneers in the mechanisation of computation, he is particularly pleased to be talking on these subjects at Gresham College.

Professor Mann delivered a series of lectures between 2013 and 2015 entitled Computing Mathematics.

All of Professor Mann's past lectures can be accessed here.

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16 March 2015

Two Losses Make a Win: How a Physicist Surprised Mathematicians
Professor Tony Mann

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