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The unplanned impact of mathematics

Cafe Sci, Nottingham (20/04/2015).

Time and again, mathematics displays an astonishing quality. A piece of pure mathematics is developed (or discovered) by a mathematician who is, often, following his or her curiosity without a plan for meeting some identified need or application. Or a piece of applied mathematics is taken into the abstract, beyond any hope of relevance to its original context. Later, perhaps decades or centuries later, this mathematics fits perfectly into some need or application. This is unplanned impact: impact which was not - and could not have been - planned when the original work took place. This aspect of mathematics has serious implications as increasingly researchers are asked to predict the impact of their research before it is funded and research quality is measured partly by its short term impact.
In this talk, Peter Rowlett, mathematics lecturer at Nottingham Trent University, will present a set of (hopefully) surprising examples from history and invite discussion of the phenomenon.