Together with composer Emily Howard we founded PRiSM, the centre for Practice and Research in Science and Music, based at the Royal Northern College of Music. Our collaborations include:
(1) A new string quartet by Emily Howard Four Musical Proofs and a Conjecture premiered at New Scientist Live in 2017.
(2) Four new works by composers at the RNCM inspired by The Music of the Primes premiered at the Manchester Science Festival and performed at the RNCM in 2018.
(3) A new interactive app developed at the University of Oxford to explore audience perceptions of structure in Music. It has been used to investigate audiences perception of structure in Ligeti and to understand if audiences hear palindromes in the music of Haydn.
Marcus has been collaborating with Complicite and Simon McBurney for many years. He was the mathematical advisor on the company’s production of A Disappearing Number. He contributed many mathematical and theatrical workshops for the company and also helped develop and deliver a programme of workshops for theatre and mathematics teachers based on the play. He has gone on to collaborate with McBurney on his recent production The Encounter exploring the themes of consciousness and time.
Marcus is a Vice President of the Hay Festival. He regularly performs and chairs events at the festival and has participated in many of the International Hay festivals around the world including: India, Bangladesh, Mexico, Columbia, Peru, Hungary. He was one of the driving forces behind the highly successful Hay-level videos, 3 minute videos by authors and academics aimed at students doing A levels.
Marcus has helped to set up an internet maths school called Mangahigh.com that uses online games to teach the mathematics curriculum. The school is used across the world: from the UK to the USA, from Australia to Brazil.
Marcus works with Richard Rhys at the Pattern Foundry to create new patterns and tiles including The Ghost Tile. This tile is inspired by one of Marcus’s favourite tiles in the Alhambra palace in Grenada. It is based on tessellating triangles, but instead of straight edges the sides are undulating waves that go in and out of the triangle. Reminding him of a musical note, Marcus experimented with varying the frequency of the wave on each side of the triangle to create a chord. If you combine the three notes on the sides you get notes that are in a 1 to 2 and 2 to 3 relationship. These are the harmonic frequencies discovered by Pythagoras. The tile thus became an attempt to capture the idea of frozen music. The waves are perturbed to bring out the inherent ghost like quality of the motif. The result is a surprising shape which doesn’t look like it will repeat.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Marcus was the mathematical advisor on the National Theatre’s award winning production of Mark Haddon’s book A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Through a series of workshops, he helped to stage Christopher’s solution to his A level maths question about Pythagorean Triples as an appendix to the play. He also wrote the mathematical notes for the programme to the production.
Marcus has started a project using maths to raise money for Common Hope, an educational charity supporting and empowering children and their families in Guatemala through education. People have stars named after them, craters on the moon, even comets…but how about naming a symmetrical object in hyperspace? Marcus du Sautoy has discovered some significant new symmetrical objects but they currently have no names. For a donation of £10 or more you can have one of these new symmetrical object named after you or a friend. Each symmetrical object is made bespoke. It is possible to weave three significant numbers into the construction of the object to commemorate a birthday or anniversary or any other significant event. So far the project has raised over £20,000 for the charity.
UK Space Competition
I am very excited to be on board the inter-stellar expedition that is The UK Space Competition as patron. The challenge of navigating space has always demanded a wonderful fusion of ideas from across the sciences.
In an age when our education system too often compartmentalises and isolates subjects, I think one of the exciting things about the UK Space Competition is that it allows students to see that biology, chemistry and physics are all contributing to how we venture out into space. My own subject of mathematics has always been one of the most powerful tools for understanding and predicting what is out there and how to explore it. Trigonometry for example wasn’t invented to torture school children with challenging problems in exams about sins and cosines. It was the best way for the ancient world to explore the heavens while stuck on the surface of the Earth. The UK Space Competition gives students a real insight into why the tools they are learning in the classroom are precisely the ones that we will need as we venture away from our planet.
But as well as giving students an appreciation of the importance of the science they are learning, I also think that they will be tapping into the creative arts too for inspiration. It was artists in Russia who began dreaming about going into space that inspired the cosmonauts to make it a reality as anyone who visited the wonderful Cosmonauts exhibition in the Science Museum last year would have leant. And if you look at some of the past entries to the UK Space Competition, you can really see students fusing their artistic visions with the hard-core science they are learning.
This is why I am so happy to lend my support as patron to the UK Space Competition. It is a competition that helps students understand the hugely interconnected nature of the subjects they are learning and I’m sure will be the launchpad for some stellar careers in the future.