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Francesca Arici wants to raise maths awareness in society

Mathematician Francesca Arici has joined the Raising Public Awareness Committee of the European Mathematical Society. She aims to coordinate and unite the European efforts of communicating and promoting mathematics. ‘We also hope to achieve more recognition for people who do science communication.’

‘I was surprised and also very happy with the nomination,’ Arici (34) says. A former member whose mandate expired nominated her, and eventually she was selected to join the Raising Public Awareness Committee. ‘The European Mathematical Society (see text box below) is making an effort of making the committee more diverse and young, to get some fresh views. And I’m more than happy to provide those views!’ 


Arici is currently an assistant professor at the Mathematical Institute (MI), after doing a postdoc at the Radboud University and working as a Social Media and Science Relation Officer at Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences in Leipzig, Germany. ‘Besides research in mathematics, I’m very interested in science communication and public awareness.’ 

Arici wants to contribute to bringing the mathematics outreach in Europe closer together. ‘A lot is going on in the field of science communication and mathematics at the moment, but coordination at the European level is lacking. This is partly due to language barriers, but we are working on obtaining a clear and broad overview of all the outreach activities happening in Europe.’

The new initiative PopMath

‘My colleagues from the committee – especially our chair Roberto Natalini, and Andreas Daniel Matt – have been working on the PopMath website, that we just launched on 21 January.’ The website was created with the support of the European Mathematical Society, with the goal of gathering all the mathematical events in Europe and beyond on a single page. ‘It offers an easy and comprehensive way to find local initiatives near you and we hope many people will use the website to advertise local math events.’

Mathematics in the Italian weekly magazine ‘Topolino’ (the Italian equivalent of Donald Duck). The mathematician in this picture claims that geometry is the noblest part of mathematics.

Donald Duck

Although she is ambitious, Arici knows that joining efforts will be difficult. ‘Even within Europe, the way of communicating about mathematics differs from country to country, depending on history and tradition,’ she remarks. ‘In Italy, where I’m from, it is quite common for science communicators to use comics and graphic novels to reach younger audiences. My colleagues Natalini and Saracco have been cooperating with Disney for several years, so now and then you can come across a Donald Duck story about the magic of mathematics, or with mathematicians in them. This seems to be a very Italian tradition, although I know that Ionica Smeets once starred in the Donald Duck as Pionica Smeets.’

Rewarding science communicators 

Arici hopes to achieve more recognition for people who do science communication. ‘Science communication is important, and it should not be viewed as something that scientists do on the side. There should be a form of recognition for scientists that are committed to science communication, and it is nice to see that this is happening more and more often. The pilot programmes by KNAW and NWO are great initiatives in this direction. In the coming years, I will dedicate myself to the development of such a scheme, possibly an award, within our committee.’

She also hopes to inspire people to organise more maths-related events, for two main reasons. ‘Firstly, these events can help to attract more people to study mathematics. Secondly, such events can raise the awareness to the public of why maths is so important.’ 

Why we need maths

But why should people study mathematics in the first place, one could ask. Arici: ‘It teaches you critical thinking and provides you with tools to analyse the world around you. Those are important skills for society. And maths is really everywhere, so if you understand maths, you can understand a lot of what is going on around you. This opens numerous possibilities, not confined to research in academia. While studying mathematics, you obtain skills and experiences that are great for other jobs as well. You would be surprised how many CEOs and business executives have a background in mathematics!’

Arici explains that it is also important to raise awareness in the broader public. ‘The current pandemic is an excellent example of how mathematical modelling and statistical analysis can help us in decision-making processes. To paraphrase the theme for the next International Day of Mathematics, maths is a tool for making our world a better world.’

European Mathematical Society

The European Mathematical Society (EMS) is a learned society representing mathematicians through-out Europe. It promotes the development of all aspects of mathematics in Europe, in particular math-ematical research, relations of mathematics to society, relations to European institutions, and mathe-matical education. The EMS has as its members around 60 national mathematical societies in Europe, 50 mathematical research centres and departments, and 3000 individuals.

Text: Bryce Benda

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