Interview with Andrew Toon – Course Leader for BSc (Hons) Mathematics
Our BSc (Hons) in Mathematics equips students with the cognitive and practical problem solving skills to successfully apply mathematical thinking in a wide range of real-world situations. Our course is also accredited by IMA (the Institute of Mathematics and it’s Applications). We caught up with course leader Andrew Toon to find out a little more about the course, and his background in Mathematics.
What do you believe is special about the mathematics course at Newman University?
The focus of mathematics at Newman is to apply mathematics to solve real world problems. Of course, mathematicians need to know how mathematics works and so some pure maths is inevitable, but the focus is on problems motivated from the real world. Also, assessment is not just examinations, the are some open book exams but mainly assessment is via continuous exercises, projects and presentations which includes both group and individual work. The real unique feature though is the small class sizes which allows students and lecturers to really get to know each other.
When did you first develop a passion for mathematics?
My interest started in my late teens. I was initially more interested in computing which was the new thing back then but I soon realised the power of mathematics not only to solve problems, but is interesting in its own right.
Can you tell us a little bit about your journey before joining Newman University?
After graduating with my first degree at Sussex University, I stayed on for a further 3 years to complete my PhD. I then went to Japan on a postdoctoral fellowship for 2 years which was an amazing experience and then returned to Oxford UK for a year on a Royal Society postdoctoral fellowship. I must stress that postdoctoral work is an essential part in the mathematical sciences and is considered part of academic training where the focus is on research. At this stage I started to think about a permanent job (where I turned down jobs in the financial sector) and with a desire to stay in academia I ended up teaching mathematics in Singapore where I meet my wife and stayed for 22 years! As you can see, I have seen the world because of mathematics!
What are your particular areas of interest within the field of mathematics?
My original research was related to Orbifolds and what is called Atkin-Lehner symmetry which has nice properties related to stability. This was motivated from superstring theory but some years later my research drifted toward topological field theories which are power theories to probe deep problems in both mathematics and physics. In recent years I have also worked on unrelated applied problems such as proteins and protein folding, which is what is so great about mathematics in that it allows me to research in many diverse areas.
What is your main piece of advice for anyone thinking of studying mathematics at University?
Treat mathematics almost like a sport, practice makes perfect, get to know all the tricks, and use technology to experiment with mathematics!