Last week the School of Mathematics and Statistics held our flagship outreach workshops, Girls Do the Maths, with both an on-campus event and an online session on separate days. We were delighted to host over 400 students from 35 schools across both events.

The annual workshops were created to encourage young women to see how they can make a positive difference to the world and enjoy enriching careers by studying mathematics and statistics, and to demonstrate the beauty, fun and applications of maths and stats.

Our on-campus event welcomed 300 students to the UNSW Roundhouse on Thursday 23 June. Some travelled all the way from the outskirts of Sydney, such as those from Elizabeth Macarthur High School in Narellan Vale, while some students arrived from a closer proximity to the university, including the cohort from Randwick Girls’ High School. Event MC Professor Catherine Greenhill commenced the proceedings and welcomed the attendees and their teachers.

The audience heard welcomes and presentations from Vice Chancellor of UNSW Sydney Professor Attila Brungs, interim Dean of Science Professor Scott Kable, and our Head of School Professor Adelle Coster.

Professor Coster was one of the founders of the Girls Do the Maths program 17 years ago, and the workshops have steadily grown in popularity in the ensuing years – requiring us to upgrade the event location from classrooms in the Red Centre to much larger venues on campus.

Our 2022 UNSW Women in Mathematics and Statistics Ambassador Hamideh Anjomshoa delivered a fascinating talk, Mathematical Modelling in Scheduling and Planning in Real-World Problems, which drew on her experiences growing up in Iran and her move into academia. Assoc. Professor Anjomshoa is a senior applied research scientist who is an Enterprise Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne.

Up next was Dr Daniel Mansfield who presented an engaging talk, The Square Root of 2, circa 1900-1600 BCE, which, to the delight of attendees, saw him launch into the audience to pose questions to the students.

Dr Alessandro Ottazzi, our Director of Undergraduate Studies and the Lead Organiser of Girls Do the Maths 2022, then presented information about the varied programs and scholarships on offer within the School.

The students broke for morning tea and for a viewing of the Australian Women in Mathematics exhibition. The exhibition showcases 16 profiles of mathematicians and features one of Dr Anita Liebenau.

The first maths activity of the day was presented by Dr Sean Gardiner. Counting Conundrums, designed by Dr Gardiner, Jason Atnip and Yudhi Bunjamin, tasked participants with enumerating the ways different objects can be arranged, ranging from stacking cups to balancing brackets, and looking for connections along the way. The groups of high school students were guided by our fantastic team of UNSW student helpers who contributed so much positive energy to the day. 

Dr Amandine Schaeffer then spoke about blending a love for mathematics with other passions, reflecting on her career and her other interests including scuba diving, snowboarding and playing guitar.

During Dr Anna Romanov’s talk, Searching for Symmetry, she started by describing one of her childhood games where she’d notice patterns in the world around her and daydream that they were part of some bigger hidden symmetry. She discussed how this is exactly what she does now as a professional mathematician: searching for hidden symmetry in the mathematical universe.

At lunchtime attendees retired to the grass outside in the sun, before departing in groups on tours of the campus.

The next hands-on maths activity, Peter’s Party Planning Problem, was presented by Diana Combe. Designed by Dr Combe and Yudhi Bunjamin, it introduced participants to the concept of Balanced Incomplete Block Designs by having them schedule parties following very particular rules. Our student helpers were on hand again to assist participants with the session.

Wrapping up the day was an interactive Q&A panel discussion, led by Professor Greenhill and featuring our current students as panellists: Kathryn Dalton, Jovana Kolar, Jodie Lee, Maeve McGillycuddy and Teya Murray. The five fielded a variety of questions from the audience.

The online event, attended by around 100 high school students, took place the following day and was MCed by our Visiting Teaching Fellow Karen Man over Zoom. She led a schedule which included a welcome from Professor Adelle Coster, a talk by Assoc. Professor Hamideh Anjomshoa, and the Counting Conundrums activity session run by Dr Anna Romanov and several student helpers. A Q&A panel, facilitated by Dr Romanov, welcomed questions from participants for our student panellists Isabelle Greco, Fiona Kim, Abi Srikumar and Tiana Tsang Ung.

Event lead organiser, Dr Alessandro Ottazzi, commented on the 2022 workshops and the teamwork which made them so successful: "It was like being part of an orchestra where all instruments play together to give you a unique tune and to create a beautiful energy”, he said. “The active participation of the girls and their teachers contributed to make it one of our best events."

Girls Do the Maths 2022 would not have been possible without the hard work of many people who dedicated their time and energy to ensure the workshops ran smoothly. Many thanks to all who contributed to the day, including event committee members, UNSW student helpers, presenters, School staff members, and of course our high school participants and their teachers!

The 2022 GDTM event organising committee included: Jason Atnip, Jo Bosben, Yudhi Bunjamin, Sean Gardiner, Frances Kuo, Karen Man, Alessandro Ottazzi, Anna Romanov, Susannah Waters and Beatta Zarrabi. Thank you for all of the tireless work behind the scenes to make both events so successful and engaging for attendees.

Images, from top: the campus event at the Roundhouse; a high school participant; Professor Adelle Coster; Dr Anna Romanov; Q&A panel discussion.

See more of the event photos via our Facebook page