Interview with Simon Singh

Hannah Schofield-Newton

March 19, 2014

We had a very special treat yesterday: a visit from Simon Singh! Yes that’s the Simon Singh, science and maths author who has worked for the BBC’s Science and Features Department, directed the BAFTA award-winning documentary ‘Fermat’s Last Theorem’, created education programmes Undergraduate Ambassadors Scheme and the Enigma Project and has written many fantastic books: ‘Fermat’s Last Theorem’, ‘The Code Book’, ‘Big Bang’, ‘Trick or Treatment’ and his latest, ‘The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets’.  Whoa!



Simon has a vision to inspire young people with maths and science. In a world that progresses via innovations in maths and science we need more mathematicians, scientists and engineers - and for that, we need more maths and science teachers - and for that, we need more people studying maths and science at university. But how can we make this happen? Simon has some revolutionary ideas about how to nurture and develop students’ talents in maths and science, encouraging them to study these subjects at higher levels.

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We managed to grab Simon for a little interview at the end of our chat:

Tutorfair: Why do you love maths and science?

Simon: I think the question is, why wouldn’t you? Science is exciting! Just think about everything that’s been going on with the Big Bang at the moment. It’s fantastic. For maths, it’s a bit different. I originally did maths in order to do science, but after writing a lot about science, I began to see the beauty of maths. Take the number 26: it’s the only number between a squared number (25) and a cubed number (27). Despite the fact that there is an infinite quantity of numbers, we can prove that 26 is the only one. That’s really cool. In maths you can answer the questions, ‘How does that happen?’ and ‘How do we prove it?’

Why did you decide to study Physics at university?

I grew up during the space race so I was drawn to the physical sciences. I love learning about the universe.

Why do you think it’s important for children to learn maths and science?

Maths and science can bring tremendous joy! If they excite you, then they could become your career. But otherwise, maths and science have an impact on our lives – they help us understand how things work which is important. Even if your job has nothing to do with science, you will need to vote on issues like climate change or genetic engineering; you will need to decide whether to vaccinate your children and so on. So it’s important to understand the science and maths behind these concepts.

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We find that children need tutoring the most for maths and science. Why do you think that is?

Maths is particularly not natural. Take my son, for instance: he learnt to talk and to walk and a lot of other things, all by himself. But counting did not come naturally; he had to be taught it. The idea of using a symbol to represent something is not natural for him. And maths becomes more and more abstract. Science is a bit different, but it has been argued that it’s also not so natural, making it more difficult to learn.

What would your words of wisdom be to kids who are currently struggling with maths or science?

They are such important subjects. You need to know the basis of maths and science to be an active citizen so stick at it and you’ll get there.

Can you tell us a bit more about the education projects you started – the Undergraduate Ambassadors Scheme (UAS) and the Enigma Project?

UAS provides university departments with the framework for a module which awards academic credit for undergraduates studying STEM subjects to work with teachers in local schools. They go into the schools once a week for about 10 weeks. Everyone is happy. The students love getting the experience and the teachers love having the support. The students are learning skills highly valued by employers, and the course is tough, so the academic credits are well deserved. This module runs in about 100 university departments now across the UK.

The Enigma project involves me lending my Enigma machine to Cambridge University so that they can take it around schools to run workshops with students about code breaking. It travels throughout the United Kingdom and abroad, visiting over 100 schools and organisations.

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As you can see, Simon does some awesome work with STEM in education so it really was the perfect treat to have him visit us during National Science and Engineering Week.

Thank you Simon, we look forward to chatting to you again soon.

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If you’d like some amazing scientists to come to your house try:

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Alfredo C  - Doing a PhD in how galaxies are formed. Recommended for maths tuition and physics tuition.

Celine H - Just loves teaching science. Recommended for GCSE biology tuition, GCSE physics tuition and GCSE chemistry tuition.

Stuart M -Recommended as a private biology tutor, private chemistry tutor and private maths tutor.