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Oxford Maths Department wins Regius professorship

The Queen awarded Oxford a Regius professorship in maths and an academic won the Shaw Prize

AS PART OF the Queen’s 90th birthday celebrations, Oxford’s Mathematical Institute has been awarded a prestigious Regius Professorship.

The award, whose recipients were announced on Monday, is rare and highly esteemed. Since the last round of Professorships bestowed by Queen Victoria in 1842, only 14 new Regius seats have been granted. The Professorship is roughly equivalent to an Honours List for university departments, providing a royal seal of approval for outstanding research.

This year has proven a bumper year for the Mathematical Institute, with the Professorship being just the latest in a series of prizes. In May, Professor Nigel Hitchin took home the 2016 Shaw Prize in recognition of his far-reaching contributions to geometry and Professor Andrew Wiles took the 2016 Abel Prize for his world-famous proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem.

Maths fresher Cong Lu told Cherwell “I was very aware of a few people from Oxford who popularized maths like Marcus du Sautoy and Vicky Neale who led a maths summer camp in Leeds and definitely influenced me to study it” but big names in research were less of an attraction.

“I was definitely aware of Andrew Wiles’ monumental effort proving Fermat’s Last Theorem before coming here but I didn’t realise he was actually at Oxford,” Cong said. He believes some of Oxford’s research success does come from the way they teach Maths to undergraduates though.

“You’re encouraged to tackle extremely abstract concepts that build on your mathematical intuition and lead you a very deep understanding of maths.”

In the past a Regius Professorship was created when a monarch founded or endowed a department at a narrow group of older universities, namely Oxford, Cambridge, St Andrews, Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Trinity College, Dublin. Rather than have the Queen spoil her party by labouring through monographs, the recipients of the latest round were chosen by a select body of experts drawn from business and academia.

The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, Professor Louise Richardson, said, “2016 is proving to be quite a year for the Mathematical Institute at Oxford with the Abel Prize presented to Sir Andrew Wiles and Nigel Hitchin recently announced as Shaw Prize laureate. Being awarded a Regius Professorship in Mathematics is wonderful news for the University and another mark of distinction for Oxford Mathematics.”

The list comprises 12 universities and contains some surprises: the Professorships granted to Queen’s College, Belfast and Cardiff University are the first to be granted in Northern Ireland and Wales, respectively, and the success of Aston University’s pharmacy department and the Institute of Cancer Research, part of the University of London, marks a hitherto unusual shift away from the Russell Group.

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