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Murray Edwards College
University of Cambridge

Science at Cambridge: Mind-boggling and mind-opening Maths

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    12 Oct

    Science fact

    Elephants rarely get cancer: less than 5% of captive elephants die of cancer, compared to 20% of humans. Elephant genomes have at least 20 copies of the tumour suppressor, p53, which may explain their low cancer rates relative to humans, who have only one copy. 

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    I’m about to start my second year studying maths at Cambridge and I can’t wait to go back, even though it had never actually been my plan to do maths! I originally intended to do physics, having become obsessed with it at GCSE, and I only did further maths A level because I knew it would be useful for that! However as the deadline approached I realised that I was actually going to miss just doing maths for the sake of it (and also that I hated chemistry, which I would probably need for natural sciences at Cambridge!), so I started to look for mathematical physics courses.

    At this point I found out about maths with physics, which is a Cambridge course where you study ¾ of the maths tripos and the physics quarter of natural sciences.

    This is great because you do loads of maths but don’t miss out on any of the physics course as you would at most unis.

    At the end of first year you have to choose between the two subjects, and after a lot of deliberating I eventually chose maths because, however intriguing physics may be, I find the actual act of doing maths far more enjoyable and satisfying.

    In my first year I loved the applied courses, but I was surprised though to find that I was also taken in by many of the pure topics, in particular the analysis course. This course began by proving things that seemed obvious (such as that 0≠1!), but it was fascinating to see how the same techniques could then be use to prove subtle things which often required quite a lot of convincing to believe!

    At the end of the first year I started studying variational principles, an applied course that really toes the line between physics and maths so is great for me! It proposes a completely new way of looking at simple problems such as find the trajectory of an object falling under gravity. While at school we solved this problem using forces, it turns out that you can instead solve it by finding the function y(x) that minimises the integral of kinetic minus potential energy with respect to time, given start and finish points at specific times. The idea that all of mechanics could be viewed in such a completely different way is both mind-boggling and mind-opening, having thought I’d gotten to grips with these basic problems at A level. I now wonder whether there might be even more ways to answer seemingly simple problems.

    Cambridge is a wonderful place to study, especially for my course, but I have got so much more out of it than just studying! I joined the university cheerleading team, having been an acrobat for years, and I am now also on the committee of the university Labour club, which is something I would never have imagined having the confidence to do before coming.

    There are of course times at uni when I get stressed out and feel like I have too much work to do, everyone does! However, I genuinely enjoy the all work I’m doing, and I feel lucky to be amongst others who share the same fascination with the world of mathematics.

    Katie Marsden
    Undergraduate