28 october 2008

New Simonyi Chair appointed

Marcus du Sautoy
Professor Marcus du Sautoy. Photo: Niall McDiarmid

Professor Marcus du Sautoy, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, has been appointed to the Charles Simonyi Chair for the Public Understanding of Science.

The Charles Simonyi Professorship was established in 1995 and is held jointly between the Department for Continuing Education and the post-holder’s disciplinary department in the University. The new appointment will take effect from 1 December 2008.

Marcus du Sautoy is currently presenting a four-part television series The Story of Maths on BBC Four, which aims to popularise maths. A Fellow of Wadham College, Oxford, and winner of the 2001 Berwick Prize of the London Mathematical Society, Professor du Sautoy regularly writes for The Times, The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph. He presented the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures in 2006 and has also written numerous academic articles and popular books on mathematics, including the bestseller The Music of the Primes, which was also televised on BBC Four in 2005. His latest book Finding Moonshine was published in February 2008.

Professor du Sautoy has been involved in science at Oxford since 1983 when he first arrived as a mathematics undergraduate. He is a member of the University’s Mathematical Institute and is a Senior Media Fellow of the EPSRC. His research interests include understanding the world of symmetry using zeta functions, a classical tool from number theory. His work uses a wide range of methods including p-adic Lie groups, model theory, algebraic geometry and analytic methods.

The aim of the professorship is to communicate science to the public, with elements of scholarship that bring true understanding. The benefactor of the Chair is Dr Charles Simonyi, an internationally renowned computer scientist, who is known as one of the most influential figures behind the development of the personal computer revolution.

For me, science is about discovery but it is also about communication. A scientific discovery barely exists until it is communicated and brought to life in the minds of others.

Professor Marcus du Sautoy

Commenting on his new appointment, Professor du Sautoy said: ‘For me, science is about discovery but it is also about communication. A scientific discovery barely exists until it is communicated and brought to life in the minds of others.’

‘I am passionately dedicated to giving as many people as possible access to the exciting and beautiful world of mathematics and science that I inhabit. I want to reveal why it is such a powerful way to understand the world. A mathematically and scientifically literate society is essential given the huge role science now plays in our world.’

Dr Charles Simonyi said: 'I am elated by the announcement that Professor Marcus du Sautoy will be the new Simonyi Professor for two reasons. First, he is an outstanding mathematician as well as a great communicator of ideas and thus embodies the ideals of the Simonyi Chair for the Public Understanding of Science just as Professor Dawkins, his predecessor did. But I am also very pleased that Mathematics – the Queen of Sciences according to Gauss – will now be the vehicle for bringing to the public the beauty and excitement of science.'

Professor Jonathan Michie, Director of Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education, said: ‘We are delighted that Professor Marcus du Sautoy has accepted this post, which marks a new direction for the Simonyi Chair. He is the ideal person to develop Oxford’s science activities for the public given his wonderfully engaging way of presenting maths, combined with a world-class reputation for mathematical research. The University and the departments supporting Marcus – the Department for Continuing Education and the Mathematical Institute – are wholly committed to the Chair’s activities to promote public engagement.’

Evolutionary biologist Professor Richard Dawkins, the first Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, retired from the post in September 2008. Professor Dawkins is a Fellow of New College, Oxford, and author of two best selling books The Selfish Gene (published in 1976) and The God Delusion (published in 2006).