Now unknown to me at the time. My cousin, Professor Clive Fraser (an Economics Professor) met one of the greatest Black mathematicians ever – Professor David Blackwell in the 1980s!

A couple of weeks ago, I watched the excellent Marvel film Black Panther which has just broke $1 Billion in the box office worldwide!

The film had a number of themes including the question – What if an African country, named Wakanda, lead the world in technology? The film offered a cinematic picture of this, with an important emphasis on the STEM subjects.

Now one of the most interesting characters in the film is Shuri. Wikipedia describes the her character like this

*Shuri the princess of Wakanda, designs new technology for the country. She has “an innovative spirit and an innovative mind” who “wants to take Wakanda to a new place. Shuri is a good role model for young black girls as well as being one of the smartest persons in the world.*

Now one of the technologies that Shuri design was Black Panther’s suit. The suit can distribute the kinetic energy from an impact. The idea is that the kinetic energy will not be focus on one area but move to another part of the suit where it can be absorbed. Okay, nice Hollywood science fiction stuff or is it? Watching this scene took me back to my postgraduates days, when I was doing a MSc in Industrial Mathematical Modelling at Loughborough University. Here, I did a dissertation on the “Impact on an Adhesive Joint”. Here I had to created a mathematical model of how material behaved in aggressive circumstances. My secondment was at a Material Start up firm ran by three PhD material scientist. They had this crazy idea that if you create a design a composite material, it would be able to take an impact, by distributing the kinetic energy away from the impact zone to places for which it can be absorbed. Sounds familiar? My dissertation, was to create an analytical mathematical model to describe such behaviour. The composite material would be bonded together by adhesive. The figure below shows the schematic.

The Impact Force was represented by a triangular pulse forcing term of impact duration ‘a’.

Now was interesting in the film, Black Panther suit, made up of nanomites started to disintegrate when it was hit by a sufficient force, like the horn of a Rhino or a point blank grenade launcher. The sharp energy rised forced the nanomites apart. Okay not so Hollywood, but in my dissertation research it was identified that the interface is where the composite material was most likely to fail.

However, if the interface remained in place, the adhesive layer serves as the entity to absorb the energy by bouncing the reflective wave between its boundaries. So theoretically, a Black Panther suit could work! Well done Shuri !

This was one of my first mathematical models, and the dissertation did receive a distinction. At the time of thought the idea of a impact absorbing composite material as crazy but after watching Black Panther, it motivated me to have another look at my MSc thesis. Though I don’t think I can invent the Black Panther suite, I hope that this film inspires children all over the world to greater and better things in STEM.

#WANKADAFOREVER

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Secondly, in my first year of been nominated, I made 5th place of the 2018 Powerlist. Hence, I have the current title 5th Most Influential Black Person in the UK. This was the first time a mathematician has made the list in the awards 11 years history.

Thirdly, the Reach Society awarded me the Victoria Mutual Champions Award.

Fourthly, October was declared by a number of Mathematical organisation as Black Mathematician Month. This was led by the excellent Chalkdust based at UCL. It was an honour for my face to be put on the same banner as Elbert Cox (1st Black PhD Mathematician) and Katherine Johnson (Hidden Figures fame). My role for this project, was very much advisor identifying potential Black mathematicians to be interviewed. I also gave my talk, The Black Heroes of Mathematics, at the closing ceremony. Professor Tony Mann gave a nice blog about the month and the closing event. It was great seeing contributions from mathematicians from USA, the Caribbean, Africa as well as the UK!

Last but not least, I have been doing Speakers for School for almost four years now. It is an activity I take very seriously and I will look to support this charity for the foreseeable future. However, it is always nice to get feedback now and again. I hope my “real world mathematics” talks are making a difference in the pupil lives. Here is the feedback I received from the latest school I talked at:

*He made me like maths even more.*

*I liked the fact that it was interactive. *

*He made maths sound cool. *

*He made me see why we need maths. *

*He was cool. *

*Now I know the point of algebra, I am more enthusiastic to learn it. *

*Maths is more useful than I thought, He was very well presented and entertaining – kept me interested throughout. *

*He was motivational because he’s a normal person who is relatable but has achieved a lot. I*

* like the way he did the long multiplication thing – it was very helpful. I also like the way he got everyone involved. *

*He is very tenacious because his determination allowed him to follow his dreams. *

*Very motivational and inspirational – I wasn’t aware that being a mathematician was a job! *

*I like the way he proved his theories. *

*He was full of positivity. I found his speech really motivating. *

*I found it really interesting how he incorporated science and maths into his speech. *

*I found the speech interesting and funny at some points. *

*It showed me that mistakes aren’t something you should be ashamed of: maths is all about resilience.*

* I found Dr Chamberlain to be an amazing genius: he is fascinating… Dr Chamberlain was very enthusiastic and he was able to get the students involved. *

*He has a great personality and he knew how to get the students interested in his talk. *

*He’s the type of person that makes me want to do maths! *

*It was an excellent talk, especially at the start of the week. *

*I will forever, throughout my education, take his statements into consideration.*

Wow, I am touched and honoured. I am not the only speaker from Speaker for School. There are others equally passionate about their field and would love to inspire pupils to dream and reach higher. If you are a school teacher reading this blog get in touch with Speakers for School and let see what they can do for you.

Roll on November!

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This is what Professor Fraser said

” I am very proud to say that I met the great David Blackwell while I was a Lecturer at Warwick. – see some other photos of Blackwell, at a colleague’s funeral, here: I suggested him for an Honorary Degree, which he was awarded, and I was privileged to talk to him when he came over to receive it. By that time, I already knew the now well-known story of the racism that he had encountered on route to being appointed a Professor of Statistics at University of Berkeley, which he confirmed. I first encountered that story when I read the biography of Jerzy Neyman, who founded the Berkeley Statistics Department, when I visited CORE and IRES, Université Catholique de Louvain-la-Neuve, in 1984-85.

There is another story relating to David Blackwell that I have that, I believe, reflects the importance of people knowing their own history. I first came across the eponymous Rao-Blackwell Theorem while studying for an MSc in Economics and Econometrics at Southampton in 1975-6. I had a fellow student, an Irish man (also now a Professor of Economics), who assured me that Blackwell was Irish! I never bothered to check this (why should I have bothered to check a fellow student’s word about something as inconsequential as someone’s nationality, or so I thought then?). So, for years, I happily went about in the belief that Blackwell was indeed Irish and assured others of this. I must have provided much amusement to those who knew otherwise, until I was finally disabused of my misinformation at CORE. There are many lessons in this story that others can, indubitably, fill in the details of.”

Apart from being slightly jealous, I am extremely proud that a member of my family had cross paths with one of the greatest Black mathematicians ever.

It is a widely held belief that if you remove a model’s assumption you remove some of it limitations. Some say the more simple the model the better it is. In both cases I believe that these statements are not always true. A simple model with let’s say one thousand assumptions may not be fit for purpose. Why? If a model is true iff all of its assumptions are true and/or robust then in then its results may proved to be unstable. Conversely a model that is so complex, nobody can relate to its results nor connect it to it input may proved to be not fit for purpose.

In my 25+ years as a professional mathematical modeller, I have seen (and some times written) the good, the bad and the ugly models! The Bad is a model too simple to be of use. The ugly way too complicated to be understood and the results to be analysed. A Good mathematical model will have the right amount of transparent and challengeable assumptions, which coupled with an good mathematical approach provides the framework for potential insight into real world problems.

For example, a commercial organisation may use a forecast model to predict market share through time. However a good mathematical model will question the hidden assumption that its competitors will sit back and do nothing while one company take its customers. Added to the further dynamics of a good customer/ bad customer. By definition a “good” customer makes a company profitable while a “bad” customer adds extra costs not profit.

Does a company really want to be number one in the market but the majority of its customer are bad? By extending the gambler’s ruin problem we have a framework of modelling this real world problem. Let’s look at the following figures which shows the predicted market share of six commercial companies and the percentage of good customer. Each company has approximately 50% good customers through time and the ranking of the six companies remain the same.

Now let’s say the lowest performing commercial company in terms of market share wishes to become number one. It may use a simple model that states that its market share will grow independent of what ever its competitors do. Hence, it this was true the respected figures may look like this.

Under these circumstances the future looks bright for the company represented by the Green line. However, there is an underlying assumption that this model prediction is based on; the company’s market share will grow independent of what ever its competitors do. Really? One of the beauties of a good mathematical model is the ability to test the assumptions that underpins it. One strategy the competitors could apply is that they will fight hard to keep its own good customer’s but will persuade its bad customers to leave. What are the implications of this?

Our lowest performing company may become number one but at a cost. It could lose most of its good customers to its competitors making them more profitable.

In conclusion, a model with weak assumptions is a weak model. Nevertheless, a transparent and challengeable assumptions couple with a good mathematical approach, helps with insight into real world problems and will create the right conditions for the model to evolve.

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Now Aston Villa actually did slightly better than the model predicted finishing with 61 as oppose to 58 points. However because of the poor start the model predicted it was near impossible for Aston Villa gaining a play off position let alone automatic promotion. The points need for promotion was actually 80 points seven more than the 10 year average. Nevertheless, the probability of Aston Villa achieving at least 61 points was 35%. So Dr Xia, I give Aston Villa 65 out of 100. All the best for next season.

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“Thank you! Your visit has got to be the best we’ve had in a very, very long time! The students were enthralled and have had some wonderful feedback..they were fulsome in praise, telling their Maths teachers all about it! As a teacher, I was once more learning so much from watching another…we can’t thank you enough..and thanks come from myself, the Maths Dept, and Head of Sixth….and not least our lovely students.”

I will end this blog by quoting one of my twitter friend @LaurenYvonneTX

“Your journey is meant to be shared so that others can be inspired and motivated to reach for the stars”

]]>This year, while talking at a Black History event, The Black Makers, one of the delegates challenged me with the following question:

“Do you agree with me that this society does not have the environment for black scientists to emerge, survive and to thrive?”

With statistics such as:

Black [Physics] academics account for only 0.2% of professors and 0.4% of researchers despite making up 3.3% of the total population.

Source: Campaign for Science and Engineering

The easiest answers are to either to say “yes” and do nothing or say “no, things are improving” and then ignore the issues at hand. However when people and organisations take personal and corporate responsibility to the argument that “science is for everybody”, this is when you do create an environment for black scientists to emerge, survive and to thrive.

Being motivated to succeed from an early age

When I was 15, my school teacher told me I could be a boxer, but never a mathematician. On hearing this, my parents took responsibility by saying to me, “You don’t need anybody’s permission to be a great mathematician!” I embraced what my parents said to me and pursued a successful career as a professional mathematical modeller.

Finding career support

The Science Council has been very supportive of me becoming and sustaining my Chartered Scientist status. Nine years ago, a delegate challenged my suitability of chairing a mathematics conference because of the colour of my skin; I asked him to look through his personal copy of Chartered Scientist – The forefront of science. Not only was I quoted in the brochure, I was one of twelve Chartered Scientists profiled. The Science Council had taken responsibility to show that black scientists do belong in the scientific community.

The pinnacle of my career came in 2015 when I became the first black mathematician to be referenced by the Who’s Who since its establishment in 1849. There are only about 30 British mathematicians in the Who’s Who. I achieved this feat through hard work and determination as well as the support of professional organisations such as the Science Council and the Institute of Mathematics and its Application.

Inspiring others to follow

However, my responsibility to create an environment for black scientists to emerge, survive and to thrive has not ceased. I now undertake a number of talks at schools, education and community establishments to talk about my journey. My mission can be summed up by Professor Rosina Mamokgethi Setati-Phakeng, the first black South African female to get a PhD in Mathematical Education:

“Being the first is not something to be proud about, it is a calling to ensure you are not the last.”

Professor Rosina Mamokgethi Setati-Phakeng

]]>The idea of a science forum that would bring together top science students from many countries was most evidently considered after World War Two, when this idea was realized in the form of student exchanges between different schools and communities in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Czechoslovakia. In 1959, writing that “out of like interests the strongest interests grow”, one of the LIYSF founders Philip Green initiated a coordinated program housing all participants in one location, the University of London.

In the next decades, the conference expanded across the globe, starting from the United States of America to Eastern Asian countries. The initial goal was to put science into perspective and to encourage those attending to be aware of the needs of the world and what was happening in disciplines other than the one they were studying.

From 1971 to the 21st century, LIYSF has attracted a range of a wide range of notable presidents, including four Nobel Prize laureates, and innumerable distinguished speakers and lecturers.

Top speakers attend each year and have recently included; Professor Fiona Watt, Lord Robert Winston, Professor Sir Roy M. Anderson, Professor Mark McCaughrean, Professor Lesley Yellowlees, Professor Dame Carol Robinson, Professor John Ellis, Professor Sir Christopher Llewellyn Smith and Professor David Phillips.

This year the theme of the 2016 conference was “Great Scientific Discoveries” and I was invited to be one of the eight specialist speaker on the specialist study day.

The idea of the specialist day is that the student body of around 500 students are broken down into smaller groups to consider different themes. The groups will be led by the specialist and begin with a short lecture from the specialist outlining their area of expertise and raise key points. It is then up to the students to spend the remainder of the day to prepare to present this information to the rest of the student body in the afternoon plenary session in the form of a dance/song or drama.

This conference was one of my biggest professional challenges. It is not every day that I present to 500 of the world leading young scientist and the other speakers representing their field were top class. This included a professional science communicator for Discovery channel as well as a scientist from CERN. Nevertheless, the leader of the day Professor Clare Elwell, stated my title was her favourite – Mathematics: The Queen of Science. Of the 500 delegates, 65 choose to come to my one hour lecture and sub-sequential two hours workshop. This was only one behind the most popular session – The Substomic Zoo of Elementary Particles by the CERN scientist Prof Freya Blekman. In my group I had students from Canada, China, New Zealand, France, Malaysia, Poland and India, all were very enthusiastic and I had one hour to prove to them that Mathematics was indeed the Queen of Science. My argument was that not only does mathematics support science, it also leads science especially when it came to the field of mathematical modelling. I focused on the application of my PhD thesis – Extension of the Gambler’s Ruin Problem played over Networks. Firstly, I showed by using the Gambler’s Ruin Problem how we could predict the conditions for a World Economic Crash. Secondly, I discussed the potential of using the Gambler’s Ruin Problem to minimize the potential of Artificial Intelligence Takeover. The talk was well received, the highlight being when all the students shouted WOW when I showed them my main PhD result. For the workshop the student had to put together a 6 minutes presentation based on my talk in the form of a dance/song or drama. My group opted to do a Hip Hop Musical which was very creative and enjoyable to watch. I have never seen my mathematical research translated into this art form.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this day. It was an honour to have the opportunity to inspire the future leading world scientists and showing them that mathematics is indeed the queen of science.

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This is my story

In America out of population 250 million but out of 46 million African-American it is estimated only approximately 300 have a PhD in mathematics. An American columnist once stated that Black people were intellectually inferior because there has never been a Black Mathematician who has won the Field Medal, the greatest prize in mathematics. My name is Nira Chamberlain, when I was growing up mathematics was my strongest subject but I never had a passion for it but I had a dream that one day I would become some type of super mathematician. However, my career teacher stated I should become a boxer and my classmates would racially tease me if ever I became top of the class. There were no Black Mathematical role models just entertainers and sport stars for me to inspire to. Despite of this I pursued mathematics through GCSE, A level ,degree and finally Masters. I was never the best at what I did but I did enjoyed watching other mathematicians solving the most complex of problems. I had plenty of enthusiasm but I was terrible at exams nor was very confident. Then one day I met the Congress of African-American Mathematicians http://www.caarms.net/home.aspx who challenged me to do a PhD in mathematics. I was inspired and applied to do a PhD but at the interview the University Professor rejected me on the spot calling me naive and technically weak. Defeated and discouraged I went home but my Dad gave me these rousing words

You don’t need anybody’s permission to be a great mathematician

With this, I began to study harder, I lived breathed and eat mathematics. I soon realized that I may not be good in exam conditions but I was very good at solving real life mathematical problems outside academia. I went on to work in France, the Netherlands and Israel doing the mathematics that nobody else could do. 15 years later within 2014 within six months I got my PhD in mathematics, I was awarded by the Science Council as one of the UK top 100 Practising Scientist and in 2015 I became the First Black Mathematician to be referenced by the Who’s Who since its establishment in 1849. There are only 30 mathematicians in the Who’s Who and they tend to be the top mathematical geniuses in the Britain. I am glad I never became a boxer, but I persevered with my dream and became a super mathematician after all!

*No matter what profession you wish to purse, you can be the greatest!*

No one of the things that my Father use to say to me repeatedly until, I believe it was

*You don’t need anybody’s permission to be a great mathematician!*

In my formative years, I didn’t have any mathematical Black heroes or role models to inspire me to head for the heady heights. But what I did have was passion, enthusiasm and an determination to pursue the dream of becoming a mathematician. For this, first and foremost I give glory to God for putting the appropriate non-mathematical role models in my life such as Muhammad Ali.

The Muhammad Ali influence inspiration is evident. In support of Cambridge University outreach project, Plus magazine, I did a Video interview called Five minutes with Dr Chamberlain . Here I discuss how solving mathematical problems can be like fighting an invisible boxer! Thinking about it, it sounds like rope the dope.

In your honour your name Mr Ali, I hope continue to Float like butterfly and Sting like a Mathematician!

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