Colourful mathematician and magician to visit University next week

In a coup for the Faculty of Information and Mathematical Sciences, renowned American mathematician and former professional magician Professor Persi Diaconis will be delivering the inaugural Rankin Lectures 2006* at Glasgow University next week.

A colourful character with a fascinating life story, Diaconis is currently professor of statistics and mathematics at Stanford University. Best known for his research into mathematical problems involving randomisation illustrated by tossing coins, throwing darts and the shuffling of playing cards, Professor Diaconis achieved international fame when he proved that a deck of playing cards must be riffle shuffled a minimum of seven times before it can be considered randomly mixed up.

Having left home and dropped out of school aged 14 to travel with famous sleight-of-hand magician Dai Vernon before returning to education later in life and studying at Harvard, Professor Diaconis is a living riposte to anyone who says mathematicians are dull.

His five eagerly awaited Rankin lectures ヨ which begin at 2pm on Monday 6 November in Room 516, the Mathematics Building, University Gardens ヨ are aimed at mathematicians, statisticians, computer scientists, philosophers but interested members of the public are welcome to attend.

Professor Diaconis said: "The twentieth century has been called 'the time of taming chance'. Now, we are harnessing chance to make and break codes, find patterns in DNA, and even do basic counting. In my opening lecture, 'The Search for Randomness', I will explore some of our most primitive images of random phenomenon - flipping a coin, shuffling cards, and throwing a dart at the wall ヨ to show that we are usually lazy and don't achieve randomness. The analysis leads to a better understanding of problems in others areas such as computer science."

*The Rankin Lectures celebrate the achievements and influence of eminent Scottish mathematician Professor Robert Rankin who died 5 years ago.

Martin Shannon (

Professor Persi Diaconis will be available for interview and photographs at 1.30pm on Wednesday 8 November in Room 209, the Mathematics building, University Gardens, University of Glasgow.

Please contact Martin Shannon on 0141 330 8593 to confirm attendance.

Further information on Persi Diaconis

Full details on Rankin Lectures Professor Ken Brown, Department of Mathematics 0141 330 5180

First published: 3 November 2006