Vital subject that helped Alan Turing win World War II at risk in universities

'Pure maths' which is a popular branch of maths is being threatened by the focus of other subjects, according to a campaign.

Popularised by the genius Alan Turing, 'pure maths' is mathematics in its most basic form and is the study on concepts. Turing demonstrated this subject when he broke the Nazi enigma code which helped him and the Allies win the Second World War.

Unfortunately, pure maths is seeing a decline due to a rise in applied maths. One key reason for this is that universities are focussing more on finance, as they gravitate towards topics like computing and artificial intelligence.

This has led lesser opportunities to study 'pure maths' in universities, as some universities cut out the 'pure maths' department entirely, The Mirror reports.

Speaking to The Guardian, Rachel Barnes, Alan Turing’s great-niece said: “We must keep funding and supporting pure maths, the subject at which my great uncle excelled and which was the bedrock his achievements were built on.

“I believe it is vital that young people who show a talent for pure maths should be able to study it at its highest level at university. This will keep our country leading in the area of mathematics and also science.”

Not sure what pure maths actually is? Let us explain…

In simple terms, it’s the study of ‘concepts independent of any application outside the subject’. These so-called concepts may originate in real-world situations, and the results may later turn out to be useful for more practical purposes.

The big issue at the moment is the idea of pure mathematics vs applied mathematics, with applied mathematics slowly but surely taking over. If you're not sure what applied mathematics is, it's basically the application of mathematical methods by different fields like physics, engineering, medicine, business and even finance.

Protect Pure Maths started their campaign after the University of Leicester closed their pure maths department altogether which naturally sparked controversy. Their main aim is to help promote and preserve the subject of mathematics, described as a ‘sense of beauty’.

We spoke to Marcus du Sautoy, author of 'Thinking Better: The Art of the Shortcut' and professor for the public understanding of science at Oxford University.

He said: “Maths that doesn’t have an obvious application can suddenly be key to pressing issues facing society or humanity. It’s never clear where breakthroughs will come from.

“All maths matters. Pure maths and applied maths are intertwined and having one without the other doesn’t really make much sense. Both contribute so much to the economy, society and our everyday lives – whether that is in the workings of GPS satellites, encrypting the contents of your mobile phone, the algorithms that drive online dating or even modelling the Covid pandemic.

“We need maths departments to offer the widest range of courses to maintain British excellence in maths, and fuel the discoveries of the future. That’s why the Protect Pure Maths campaign is so important – it’s not about favouring any one element of maths, it’s about making sure all aspects of mathematics is promoted, protected and celebrated.”

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With mathematics being a particularly competitive subject for graduate earnings, many students wonder if pure maths is a ‘waste of time’.

In response to this, however, one user on Quora said: “What if time spent on applied mathematics research with ‘practical applications’ turns out to be completely useless – or worse than useless? Then by that logic applied mathematics is also a waste of time.”

Another user, in favour of pure maths commented: “Is studying poetry a waste of time because it doesn't have the practical applications of, say, journalism? Or is studying quantum physics a waste of time because it isn't as applicable as Newtonian dynamics?

“The value of pure mathematics isn't in applicable use, it's in the construction of ideas that may or may not become applicable. Applied mathematics answers the how. Pure mathematics answers the why.”

According to the Protect Pure Maths campaign, only 35 out of the UK’s 174 universities offer pure maths degrees despite the number of students studying maths at A-level rising 10% between 2015 and 2020. It’s actually the most popular A-level subject now, taken by more than 90,000 students.

Dr Nira Chamberlain, president of the institutes of mathematics and its applications, said: “Albert Einstein once said that ‘pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas’ and in my opinion, this is true.

“To those who think we can have a better society by reducing pure mathematical activity, I say all of mathematics is important, you cannot target one without hurting the other.

“Mathematics teaches science to scientists, engineering to engineers, technology to technologists. When mathematics is strong, the UK economy becomes stronger. We need mathematics. We need pure mathematics.”

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