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Using popular culture to drive engagement with mathematics

Many people find it difficult to engage with mathematics and related STEM subjects and find them intimidating.

Although complex mathematical themes may not be accessible to all members of the public, our researchers have shared their expertise using targeted and creative methods to introduce the public to Maths in an engaging way. By applying mathematical tools to topics that are well known and understood by the target audience, barriers to engagement caused by anxiety around understanding can be overcome. 

The Mathematic Research Group have helped to inform a wide range of public engagement activities aimed at improving levels of awareness and engagement with STEM subjects both regionally and nationally. By revealing the maths involved in child friendly topics such as animation, space travel and superheroes they have engaged, informed and inspired children and adults with mathematics. A transdisciplinary popular science book Unmasked: The Science of Superheroes, has applied mathematical theories to the concepts of size, time travel and super speeds that affect your average superhero. Through Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) funding, 12,000 copies of the book have been printed and 5,200 made available for libraries in the UK to ensure wide access to the book. 

Through a series of public engagement events, the team considered ways in which their knowledge and skills could be made appealing to a broad audience. As part of the 2019 Lancashire Science Festival, the team created an ‘Experiment Pack’ available for free to children from disadvantaged backgrounds who attended the festival or through their schools. Research on the Lancashire Science Festival found that 70% of parents attending the Festival reported a positive impact on their perception of science with this proportion increasing among parents from more deprived areas. 

Research team

Dr Sylvy Anscombe

Professor Robert Walsh

Dr Kevin Bowman