Wilson's School

Black Heroes in Mathematics

Black Heroes in Mathematics

We were very fortunate to be joined by Professor Nira Chamberlain OBE. Dr Chamberlain, a Chartered Scientist, Chartered Mathematician, as well as a Fellow of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA), works with Speakers for Schools. He is a Principal Consultant at SNC-Lavalin, and in 2020 became the President of the Institute of Mathematics and its applications. He is also a member of the European Mathematical Society and the Operational Research Society. Sajid and Parth (both Year 10) fill us in, below, on their experiences of listening to Dr Chamberlain.

On the 13th June, when the announcement came that our usual Thursday afternoon assembly would extend into Period 5, I was thrilled at the prospect of having a “free-period” and potentially finishing school early. Prior to the assembly itself, we as a year group were informed that a very special guest was to deliver it but little did we know truly how special of a guest he would be. As Professor Nira Chamberlain took the stage, my excitement almost immediately shifted. Known for his revolutionary work in industrial mathematics and mathematic modelling, Professor Chamberlain’s passion for the subject was contagious, even to those who were initially not so keen. He began with such energy and clarity that what started as a welcome break from routine turned into an unexpectedly inspiring experience.

During the assembly, Professor Chamberlain shared a compelling story about his journey to becoming a renowned mathematician. He recounted his early years, marked by a deep curiosity for numbers and patterns, but also significant trials and challenges. Namely, while growing up, Professor Chamberlain faced shocking instances of racism that sought to undermine his aspirations of becoming a mathematician. Despite these great hurdles and motions to instead become a boxer by some of his teachers, Professor Chamberlain held true to his father’s unwavering philosophy: “You don’t need anybody’s permission to be a great mathematician” and since then, he has lived by this principle and his passion for mathematics has only propelled him forwards. Through sheer hard work, he not only overcame these boundaries but also achieved remarkable success in his field, earning numerous accolades, including an OBE, for his contributions to industrial maths. His story was a cogent testament to the importance of perseverance and if we learnt nothing else from his assembly, we as a year group now know the transformative power of passion and determination; and of course: we “don’t need anybody’s permission to be a great mathematician”.

Sajid, Year 10

Listening to Professor Chamberlain talking about how he had spent his life as a great mathematician and a truly awe-inspiring global figure was so motivating and helped me to gain an unfound passion in the subject. It was a wonderful experience to meet someone who had been featured on the “Who’s Who” and how, despite the many struggles he faced from being from an ethnic minority, he was able to become the leading mathematician he is. I think the best moment was when he was talking about a navy ship that needed to be built and then he showed us the HMS Queen Elizabeth and I think that was very inspiring to everyone who was in the room. I loved how despite his teachers telling him that he could “never become a mathematician”, he didn’t let that stop him and his message of “You don’t need anybody’s permission to be a great mathematician” really embodies his career as a leading mathematician. His entire career is a true example of hard-work and resilience and that is what really struck out to me as I was listening to him. I am so grateful to have listened to him because it has helped me to see a future in maths, I never would have thought was possible and has given me the motivation to continue doing maths in the future.

Parth, Year 10