Not since 1657

12 May 2008

In a feat unmatched since 1657, a Cambridge academic has been appointed to a second chair at London’s oldest institute of higher education.

Following on from his great success in delivering free public lectures as Gresham College's Professor of Astronomy, John D. Barrow, Professor of Mathematical Sciences at Cambridge, has been appointed Professor of Geometry at the College, an accomplishment only previously achieved in 1657 by Royal Society founding member Lawrence Rooke.

Professor Barrow will continue the 411-year-old tradition of delivering free public lectures aimed to be of interest and use to a wide range of people. His series of lectures will focus on the applications of mathematics to familiar things, explaining how mathematics is all around us and tells us many things about the world that we couldn't otherwise learn.

He will investigate how mathematics finds its application in areas such as sport, art, architecture and design, and how it can explain the everyday problems that arise - such as how to win on the horses, how to pack cases efficiently, or how to hold (and rig!) an election.

The first series will take place in the academic year 2008-2009.

John Barrow has held his Chair at Cambridge since 1999, carrying out research in mathematical physics, with special interest in cosmology, gravitation, particle physics and associated applied mathematics.

Since its inception in 1999 he has been the director of the Millennium Mathematics Project, which aims to improve the understanding and appreciation of mathematics and its applications amongst young people and the general public. The Project received the Queen's Anniversary Prize for Educational Achievement in 2005.

He has authored more than 430 scientific articles and 19 books, which have been translated into 28 languages, exploring the wider historical, philosophical, and cultural ramifications of developments in mathematics, physics and astronomy, receiving numerous prizes for his work. His most recent book, Cosmic Imagery, is about the role of pictures in the development of science and mathematics.

John Barrow has also delivered lectures in a perhaps unique combination of locations including 10 Downing Street, Windsor Castle, the Vatican Palace and the Venice Film festival. He is also the author of the drama Infinities, directed by Luca Ronconi, which won the Italian Premi Ubu award for the best play in Italian theatre in 2002.

The chairs of Astronomy and Geometry at Gresham College date back to the College's foundation in 1597, through the will of the Elizabethan financier and founder of the Royal Exchange, Sir Thomas Gresham. It was the first higher education institution in England besides the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford, created with the guiding principle of providing free education to the traders and people of London.

Its tradition of free public lectures understandable for all continues to this day and they are strongly attended several times a week with supporting audio and video links provided on the Gresham College website.