The Pandemic: Get involved!
Do you know what killed the most people in the last 200 years? It wasn’t terrorism, or a natural disaster, or even World War II.
It was flu.
A hundred years ago the Spanish flu killed up to 100 million people and since then three other pandemics have swept through the globe. To try and stop that from happening again, I’m part of huge citizen science experiment that brings together BBC4, Cambridge University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine – and you could be too. We’re trying to get as many people as possible to download a smartphone app that will help scientists to predict the spread of disease.
There’s a difference between seasonal flu - which we can vaccinate against and prepare for – and pandemic flu. A pandemic happens when a flu virus jumps from animals into humans (like bird flu or swine flu). No one will have immunity to the new strain so it quickly spreads around the world.
It’s a case of when, not if, the next flu pandemic will hit. And when it comes it will be serious. The UK government predicts that 50% of people could be affected, with up to 750,000 fatalities.
So what can we do about it? Well. We can’t stop a pandemic from happening. But we can make sure we’re as prepared as possible. And that’s where maths – and the citizen science experiment - comes in.
We don't get a trial run. So, we need to be able to simulate how the virus will spread & try out all the life changing decisions beforehand - should we close the schools? How many antivirals do we need? Should the airports shut down? Our experiment looks at what would happen in a virtual national outbreak. Anyone who takes part simply needs to download our specially built smartphone app, which will track your approximate movement at regular intervals over a 24 hour period. (Don’t worry, it won’t know exactly where, or who you are.) It will also ask some questions about your journeys and the people you spent time with during those 24 hours.
This experiment, if we can get 10,000 people on board, will create a new gold standard for epidemiologists in the U.K. with the genuine potential to save lives when the time comes.
And read more about the project on the BBC website.
The BBC programme that accompanies the experiment, featuring me and the totally brilliant Dr Javid Abdelmoneim (he's a proper doctor, not a fancy academic one like me) will be aired on BBC4 in the new year.
The Joy of Winning
Hot on the heels of The Joy of Data, I'm currently filming a new documentary with Wingspan and director extraordinaire Cat Gale, titled The Joy of Winning. The subject? Glorious Game Theory of course. We'll dig into its rich history, see how it has shaped the path of politics, and explore how it can help you win in your own life. Oh, and we'll spend a lot of time in arcades along the way.
Coming soon to BBC4.
Horizon: Ten things you need to know about the future
As part of the Tomorrow's world programming series, the BBC pulled together a crack-team of science presenters to come up with a list of the ten things we think you should know about the future. And here is the result. Horizon's ten things you should know about the future. (Sometimes titles just write themselves, no?) It involves lots of very delicious graphs, a weather report from 2050 and some real-life flying cars.
First shown on BBC2 in June 2017, you can find out more here.
Oh, and just because it's one of my favourite things that has ever happened, here's a picture from a promo shoot I did with Brian Cox for the Tomorrow's world initiative. You can read the full interview here.
Britain's Greatest Invention
Something a little different for my first project back after having my daughter. And what a wonderful project to return to. In partnership with the science museum, the BBC staged a huge 90 minute LIVE show, in which seven celebrities championed seven different inventions, before the public had a chance to vote for Britain's greatest.
Find out more on the Thoroughly Modern Media website.
The Joy of Data
This film was my first collaboration with Wingspan productions and their unbelievably talented director Cat Gale. In their write up on the documentary, the BBC described it as a high tech romp into the mind-expanding world of data. Since it's not often you get to use the word 'romp' to describe maths & data I thought it would be a bit of a shame not to include it here too.
With a good dollop of warmth and wit (even if we do say so ourselves) this film digs into the story of the engineers of the data age, and takes a look the people most of us have never heard of despite the fact they brought about a technological and philosophical revolution.
Oh, and not to brag, but it got a five star review in the times.
City in the Sky
For the past year or so Dallas Campbell and I have been lucky enough to go on a series of amazing adventures for BBC2 exploring the modern aviation industry.
At any point in time there are a million people in the air - a city's worth of citizens in the sky. And the similarities with the city don't end there. These people need feeding, fuel, medical care and emergency response teams - just as we do on the ground. The logistics that go into the design of these systems require a surprising amount of mathematical optimisation, clever science and engineering.
As part of filming I got to go to Yakustk in Siberia to find out how they keep things running at the coldest airport on Earth. Dallas visited Bhutan to understand the science of landing. And we both went to Dubai to witness the Jetmen and their remarkable solo flying machines.
The Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry
Adam Rutherford have just finished our second series of our BBC Radio Four show in which we attempt to solve your everyday science mysteries.
We'll be returning in the autumn with a new set of science sleuthing stories. So, has something always puzzled you? What un-answered questions do you spend your sleepless nights pondering over? Let us know and we'll investigate: firstname.lastname@example.org
The curious cases producer (and eternal fountain of brilliance) is Michelle Martin.
Music by Numbers
Have you ever wondered how they compile the charts? Or what one YouTube view is worth? Or why Coldplay would play at the SuperBowl for free?
Yes?? Good. Then you'll like the new Radio One and Radio One extra show with me & Clara Amfo: Music by Numbers.
The programme, produced by the wonderful team at Audio Always, is a series of 10 one hour specials over the course of the year. Each takes a particular artist and digs into the numbers that made them.
Maths and Stats on Radio one eh? Welcome to the future. I like it here.
Horizon: How to find love online
I might have written a book on Maths and Love, but the theories can only take you so far. To see how the algorithms play out in the real world, I teamed up with doctor, broadcaster and singleton Xand van Tulleken to make this love-themed episode of Horizon for BBC2.
In the programme we try and seek answers to the questions that have puzzled a generation of internet singles: How important is your profile picture? What kind of dating site is best to use? And how can a computer tell your dream date from a dud?
As part of the programme, CASA MRes student Thomas Russell built a Horizon themed dating website and matching algorithm that was open for members of the public to join. As to whether that led to any romantic connections? You’ll have to watch the programme to find out.
The show also made it onto Gogglebox on the 29th April 2016.
My ten part BBC Radio four series Computing Britain is now available as a podcast here.
Now I know what you're thinking, a radio documentary on the history of computers sounds like a pretty dry way to spend two and a half hours. But actually, this series offers a surprisingly warm and nostalgic look at the plucky British spirit and our role in the birth of the modern computer age. (Honest).
Throughout the last 75 years, Brits have been at the forefront of a surprising number of innovations: electronic memory, the office & home computer and the gaming industry to name but a few. Yes, they then lacked funding at the crucial moments and the Americans swept in and did everything better, but that's hardly the point.
The Telegraph called our series "Unexpectedly delightful" which might be the greatest neg ever, but is a reason to download the podcast and give it a go if ever I heard one.
The producers (by which I mean, the people who deserve all of the credit) were Michelle Martin, Alex Mansfield and Deborah Coen.
Calculating Ada: The Countess of Computing
You might well have heard of Ada Lovelace - the 19th century amateur mathematician and prophet of the computer age. She's recently become a bit of symbol for achievement in science - and never more so than now in the 200th year since her birth.
But you may not have realised quite how captivating her story is.
This film for BBC4, first shown on 17th September at 9pm, explores how Ada’s unique inheritance – poetic imagination and rational logic – made her the ideal prophet of the digital age.
I hope you like the documentary - it was a real labour of love for all of us. I think the director Nat Sharman has created a very beautiful film - I hope you'll agree.
Most of all though I hope that you'll see, as I do, that Ada - full of her flaws and failings is the perfect inspirational figure for our subject. A woman who swore and smoked and said what she damn well thought. It’s a beautiful demonstration that whoever you are, whatever your character, there is a place for you in science.
Climate Change by Numbers
My very first documentary Climate Change by Numbers aired in the UK on the 2nd of March. It aims to cut through the oceans of information surrounding the subject and focus its attention on just three key figures from the IPCC report - each symbolic of a different aspect of the climate change debate.
My number, 0.85 degrees, is the amount the Earth has warmed since 1880. But this value raises a number of questions. How do you take the temperature of the earth? How do you account for parts of the world where you don't have data? How do you do this going back in time? And with all of the uncertainty of the data and issues with the methods, how can you be sure that the planet is really warming?
By choosing three mathematicians to host the show, rather than Earth scientists, we were able to explore the methods used by climate experts in a dispassionate light - focusing on how they arrive at their conclusions, rather than debating the conclusions themselves.
The programme was produced by the brilliant Alex Freeman & will be up on BBC iplayer until the beginning of April. I understand there is also a worldwide version - something to look out for if you are not in the UK.
The Mathematics of Love in the media
There was lots of lovely coverage of the Mathematics of Love in the UK press around valentines day, both online and in print. Highlights included a double page spread in the Observer, a feature in BBC magazine, articles in the Independent, Sunday Times and the Metro. The Daily Mail even had it as their book of the week, even though <ahem> their headline writer clearly hadn't read it.
Some nice international bits too. The book was chosen as Best of the Month on iBooks/iTunes US for February and had coverage everywhere from Australia, India and China. Although I have no idea what that last one says..
I did a lot of radio interviews too (lots of fun, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to anyone with a heart condition). Too many to post here, but here's one of my faves with Guy Raz on NPR.
The Mathematics of Love
Here is the US cover of my first ever popular science book - available from Amazon in ebook, hardback and audiobook.
It's based on a talk I gave in Binghamton New York last spring and forms one twelfth of the first TED books series: a boutique collection of short books released over the course of a year.
More info on the book can be found on the homepage, or the original talk.
Radio Four Documentary: Can Maths Combat Terrorism?
In my first ever full length radio documentary, producer Michelle Martin and I investigate the hidden patterns behind terrorism and asks whether mathematics could be used to predict and prevent future attacks.
It links in to the academic work I've been doing recently, but - unlike in much of academia - allowed for a chance to ask the bigger questions. Can modelling techniques be used to predict if, and when, another attack the size of 9/11 will occur?
You can listen to the documentary on the BBC website here. (UK only)