Credo: Marcus du Sautoy

Mathematician and Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, 43

Interview,Hugh Montgomery
Sunday 15 February 2009 01:00 GMT

I believe...

My role [as the Simonyi Professor] is as an ambassador for science. It's a challenge because it requires me to broaden my scientific horizons and engage in debates outside my specialist field. But I'm only one person and I can't do everything.

Creationism is a concern, but I'm trying not to get sucked into the same level of debate on the subject as [previous Simonyi Professor] Richard Dawkins. There are so many other battles to fight.

Maths is a fundamental language of our society. Just like being unable to spell or understand grammar, you'll find it hard to make your way through life without it.

The way we're teaching maths is too monochromatic. A good mathematician is not necessarily someone who is fast at their multiplication tables; the emphasis on arithmetic is mistaken. If you want to inspire kids, you have to help them explore maths' creative side.

There's some truth in the stereotype that mathematicians lack social skills. Sometimes you have to be very blinkered to get to your goal, and that can result in excluding the people around you from your world.

Governments are very oriented towards short-term goals, giving grants to research that has an immediate application. That's dangerous. Time and again, mathematical breakthroughs are made which look to be abstract and useless at the time, but turn out to be exactly what's needed.

There's a real public appetite for science, fed by swathes of popular science books and television. I often appear on Radio 5 Live, and we recently did a whole session on maths trivia. The amount of things people sent in amazed me.

If I wasn't a mathematician, I'd have joined the theatre. Even though I didn't, I've found a way of performing that I'm passionate about. There's wonderful drama in the stories of science, and every time I do a talk or TV show, I try to bring that out.

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