The mathematics of luck, risk and coincidence

Are you lucky or just obeying the laws of chance? Author and physicist Simon Singh looks at the mathematics of luck, risk and coincidence in the Kelvin Lecture at 6.30pm on 30 January in the Sir Charles Wilson Building, 1 University Avenue.

Our lives are dominated by the laws of chance, and Simon will give some examples from the casino to the hospital, from the courtroom to the supernatural that illustrate how our intuition often misleads us. However, he will demonstrate how mathematics and critical thinking can help us live, thrive and survive.

Simon Singh is the author of ‘The Code Book’ (a history of secret codes) and ‘Big Bang’ (a history of cosmology). His book ‘Fermat’s Last Theorem’ became the first book about mathematics to become a No.1 bestseller in Britain, and it followed his BAFTA-winning BBC documentary about this notorious mathematical problem. His training is as a particle physicist and he completed his PhD at Cambridge University.

The Kelvin Lecture was founded in 1908 as a memorial to William Thomson, Lord Kelvin (1824 – 1907), former President and Honorary Member of The Institution of Engineering and Technology and is delivered to describe new advances in the realms of science.

Born in Belfast, Lord Kelvin was Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of Glasgow (1846–99). He is particularly remembered for his work on heat and electricity, including introducing the Kelvin Temperature Scale, a temperature scale having an absolute zero below which temperatures do not exist.

The importance of the discoveries and improvements that he made in connection with the transmission of messages by submarine cables led to his establishment as a leading authority in this field. He also discovered the Thomson effect in thermoelectricity: that if a temperature difference exists between any two points of a current-carrying conductor, heat is either evolved or absorbed depending upon the material.

The Kelvin Lecture at 6.30pm on 30 January in the Sir Charles Wilson Building, 1 University Avenue is organised by The Institution of Engineering and Technology. 

First published: 23 January 2008

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