Research Day

Yesterday we had a very enjoyable event: the first-ever Research Day in the School of Mathematics and Statistics at St Andrews.

Seventeen of us spoke, the brief being to explain to the whole school what we are excited about. In addition there were a number of posters from students and others.

I learned a great deal about what my colleagues in various parts of Applied Maths and Statistics are up to: solitary waves in the interface between liquids of different densities, the interaction of the solar wind with the earth’s magnetosphere, analysis of spatially distributed data (or, do koalas have favourite trees?), and much more.

But perhaps the highlight for me was the prizewinning student poster, by Jonathan Hodgson, on doing magnetohydrodynamics in seven dimensions. It is clear how to generalise the scalar product, but what about the vector product? His approach was to use the purely imaginary octonions (the next step up from an interpretation in three dimensions using the purely imaginary quaternions, and so this struck a chord after the talks at the LMS event last Friday). He gave a very clear description of the structure (starting from the Fano plane with arrows on it which gives the simplest definition of the octonions) and of the problems which arise with this project. I have seen in a couple of places that some brave physicists wonder whether the octonions have a place in the “theory of everything”: this seemed a sober attempt to put the groundwork in place.

The down side of the day was that the university caterers hadn’t managed to deliver most of the sandwiches that had been ordered, so we had to sit through the afternoon talks less than fully satisfied. Perhaps this helped keep us awake.

I enjoyed myself, and I very much hope that this becomes a tradition!


About Peter Cameron

I count all the things that need to be counted.
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