Join us in this awesome episode of What’s It All About? as we delve into the notoriously tricky concept of infinity with multi-award-winning children’s author Colin Stuart.
Did the universe start from an infinitely small speck? Can the universe really be infinitely big?
Can there be infinitely many universes in an infinitely big multiverse?
Get ready to be amazed, entertained, and enlightened, Colin explores more in the video below and if you think your school would be interested please get in touch.
Hi, I’m Colin Stuart, and I write books about science and math and I also go into schools and talk about those subjects. And today I’m going to tell you about my ‘A Universe of Infinities’ talk.
So my background is in astronomy. And quite often when we try and understand the universe, whether that is things like black holes, for example, or the beginning of the universe in the Big Bang, we end up being hamstrung by the fact that infinity crops up and infinity is such a strange notion. It’s something that everyone has heard of. But I think for in particular, in key stage four and five, it’s not too much time has been thinking about the kind of true nature of infinity.
So we look at how and why the infinites is crop up, why dividing by zero, for example, gives you an error when you calculate something. The solution to the problems in astronomy actually has to do with triangles. And so we look at the fact that not all triangles have 180 degrees in them. So we have non-Euclidean geometry. The fact that triangles drawn on the surface of a sphere add up to more than 180 degrees, for example. And so it’s backing up some of the stuff they already know about math, but it’s also stretching them a bit. And get them to think about things maybe they hadn’t considered before.
But at the heart, it’s just showing that maths can be fun and interesting and relevant rather than just something you have to learn at school, something you have to do to pass your exams. So if you want to captivate your math students and get them to see maths in action and that it can be extremely relevant and interesting, then that’s the aim of this talk. And I love going into schools and doing it because yes, writing books is is really fun. But you can’t beat being in front of a class or in front of an assembly. And at the end of the talk, we have some real fun looking at Hilbert’s Hotel.
So this analogy that David Hilbert, the German mathematician, came up with that looks at how slippery and counterintuitive and weird infinity can really be. And so how you have a fully booked hotel, for example, that happens to have an infinite number of rooms, and yet you accommodate more guests into this fully booked hotel and suddenly have empty rooms.
So it’s aimed at key stage four and key stage five. And the idea is to show maths in the real world. I also have a kind of version of the talk for key stage three as well. It’s called ‘From Animals to Infinity’. So it combines two of my other talks, to be more relevant to key stage three. So the first part of the talk looks at maths in the animal kingdom, examples of shapes and sequences and symmetry. But we still end the talk with the Hilbert’s Hotel because the sequences we talk about, such as prime numbers and the Fibonacci sequence, will they also go on forever and ever and ever? They are infinitely long. And so bringing in that element of the weird and wonderfulness of infinity to key stage three so it depends on which age group you’re talking to, so a slightly different talk for key stage three compared to either key stage four or key stage five.
The talks can be in-person or they can also be virtual. So I can come into the school or we can do it remotely via Zoom. With the Zoom, we can be me on the screen in the hall with the whole year group at once or individual classrooms. Eight different classrooms can access the Zoom call at the same time, and we can still have that interactivity and questions at the end.
So typically a 40 to 45 minute talk with 10 minutes of questions afterwards. And the talk itself is interactive. So I’m asking them questions during the talk. They’re not just sitting there for 45 minutes. The feedback that I have got from the talk one here is something from a year 11 student. “Everything that Colin said absolutely blew me away and I found all of his ideas really interesting. The fact that he explained everything in a way to make it understandable was fantastic.” So that’s the kind of what I’m trying to achieve here. It’s an engaging, interesting, fun look at maths, but at the same time, it’s not a dry lecture that is overly complicated but kind of not dumbed down either. Just explain properly.
There is a cost involved, this is what I do for a living. And so I have to pay the bills. Exactly what it’s going to cost is dependent on several factors, including whether it’s virtual or in person. You know how many talks you want. Am I talking just year ten or maybe year ten and 11 and 12, so 3 separate talks? This is also going to depend on where the school is in terms of travel time and travel costs and things.
So the simplest thing to do if you’re interested in finding out more is to go to my website which is colinstuart.net. You’ll find all of my talks there. There’s also a contact form where you can get in touch and say, this is what I’m thinking about doing. This is where the school is based, how much it is going to cost, and I can send you a proper quote based on your circumstances.
In terms of what’s in store for me for the next six months… more of the same, really. I’m busy writing. I am writing a book about aliens. I’m writing several kind of YouTube scripts for documentaries, and I’m going into schools every week. And for me, that’s the most fun part of my job. I love going into schools.
So if you are interested in having a maths talk, either for key stage three, four or five, then do get in touch through my website which is colinstuart.net.