What is the graph of x to the power x?

The answer to the latest question sent in and voted for by YOU.

A tricky question, but one that we can answer by breaking the problem down into simpler cases, solving them, and then putting it all back together. This question is also a favourite with university admissions tutors…


To vote for the next question that you want answered next remember to ‘like’ my Facebook page here.

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Equations Stripped: Logarithms

Stripping back the most important equations in maths so that everyone can understand…

Logarithms turn multiplications (hard) into additions (much easier) which enabled scientists in the 1600’s to calculate the trajectories of comets and the orbits of the planets around the sun. Nowadays, they are mainly used in Information Theory and Thermodynamics, but still have an important role to play mathematically in helping us to understand trends in experimental data.

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BBC News – Maryam Mirzakhani’s Legacy

Live interview on BBC News about the legacy of Iranian Mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani who tragically passed away today (July 15th 2017). She was the first female winner of the Fields Medal – the mathematical equivalent of the Nobel Prize.

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Oxford Alumni Voices

Interview with the University of Oxford alumni team about my mission to popularise maths. You can listen to the full interview here.

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Naked Maths Trailer

Naked Maths is finally here!

Here’s the trailer for the new video series I’m making with the Naked Scientists taking a look at the maths that’s all around us.


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Volcanoes may have ended the Roman Empire

Volcanic eruptions can be both beautiful and destructive at the same time, but researchers have found evidence they may have also been linked to plagues, and even the fall of the Roman Empire. When a volcano erupts, chemicals are released into the atmosphere in huge quantities, which reflect light away from the earth and therefore cause climate change, in the form of summer cooling. These chemicals are also locked away in the ice, providing a snapshot of the time of an eruption. Now scientists have dated the ice cores, and the records of summer cooling, from tree rings and have found they match perfectly. Gill Plunkett from Queen’s University Belfast was one member of that team…

Gill – Now that we have much better dating for these events in the ice cores we can correlate them with other sets of evidence for past climate change and look at the historical records as well. And we can see that there’s a very strong correlation between summer cooling and volcanic eruptions. So, for example, of the sixteen largest events that are recorded in the ice cores fifteen of them are associated with summer cooling.

Tom – Did you look at a specific period over the last 2500 years?

Gill – One of the periods we were interested in was a very large acid spike. Well a species of large acid spikes in and around the middle of the 6th century. So we could see a very large acid spike at 536 AD, the acid tells us that volcanic eruptions occurred but it doesn’t tell us what volcanoes were erupting. To do that we have to look at volcanic particles. So when we looked at the particles associated with 536 acid layer we found that there was evidence not of just one eruption, but at least 3 eruptions.

Tom – And where were these eruptions from?

Gill – In this case it looks as if we have potentially unnoticed, unrecorded eruptions happening. The sources seem to be California, British Columbia and Alaska. The chemistry most closely matches volcanic systems in these areas. The idea is perhaps that these were relatively small eruptions that haven’t been noticed on the ground, but yet their combined effects were enough to cause a large acid spike and potentially climatic change.

Tom – How did you know then that these eruptions occurred at this time?

Gill – We can date the ice very accurately because snow is accumulating all the time in the polar areas. So within the ice there are seasonal changes in the chemistry, and by analysing these changes you can actually pick out changes from year to year.

Tom – I’ve also heard of things such as tree rings being used as a record for climate?

Gill – Yes, tree rings are an extremely good way of looking at past climate change. First of all, the trees grow on an annual basis so most trees would put on one growth ring per year. So, we can date the tree rings precisely to the year and also the trees respond to the climate conditions that they’re growing under. If the climate is favourable for the trees, the trees are going to grow well and if the climate is not favourable for the trees you’ll get less growth.

Tom – And so you were using a combination of the tree rings and the ice cores and this is what allowed you to get such precise dating?

Gill – Before it was recognised that the trees had these periods of unusual growth downturns suggesting that there was a severe climate deterioration. But they couldn’t link them up to the ice core records, because the dating didn’t seem to be the same. Now with the improved methods of dating we were able to show that the extreme events in the trees corresponded with the volcanic events in the ice cores.

Tom – So going back to the eruption in 536 with these three different eruptions happening, what were the actual effects that this caused?

Gill – We can surmise that the summer cooling could have been detrimental for crops growing and certainly in the historic records we start to see that there are issues happening. We start to see food shortages, famines, and from the 540’s we get the outbreak and spread of the Justinian plague. We have a series of volcanic events happening in close succession and this is likely to have put strain on crops, harvests and crop failure would have weakened populations potentially. That could have made a population more vulnerable to the spread of disease.

You can listen to the full interview with the Naked Scientists here.

Funbers 5

As well as being a hit(?) boyband from the 90’s, five is also a number. We have five human senses, five rings in the Olympic symbol and five Platonic Solids. These are my favourite shapes and were believed by the Ancient Greeks to be the building blocks of the universe…

You can listen to all of the Funbers episodes from BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and BBC Radio Oxford here.

Tom Rocks Maths Episode 03

Episode number 3 of Tom Rocks Maths on Oxide Radio – Oxford University’s student radio station. Featuring special guest Marie who talks about bringing dinosaurs back to life, asks me to explain the fourth dimension and tests out her mathematical knowledge with a dinosaur-themed quiz. Plus the weekly puzzle, the chaotic world of Funbers and music from Muse, Stereophonics and Bowling for Soup…

Funbers – Feigenbaum’s Constant

Funbers enters the world of Chaos with Feigenbaum’s constant, equal to 4.67… Mathematically, it’s the quickest route to complete and utter unpredictability and was only discovered 30 years ago… madness (in more ways than one).

You can listen to all of the Funbers episodes from BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and BBC Radio Oxford here.

Funbers 4

The number 4 is a symbol of balance and stability: tables and chairs have four legs, as do most animals, and humans have four limbs. We also like to divide things up into fours – four parts of the day, four points on a compass and four seasons for example. And then there’s the four horsemen of the apocalypse, wreaking havoc and causing death and destruction everywhere they tread. Maybe four isn’t so stable after all…

You can listen to all of the Funbers episodes from BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and BBC Radio Oxford here.

Oxplore Live Stream Debate

Would it be better if we all spoke the same language? Live debate with Oxplore – Oxford University’s digital outreach portal. Watch me try to convince some linguists that Maths is indeed a language and also our best bet of communicating with aliens…

Tom Rocks Maths Episode 02

The second live episode of Tom Rocks Maths on Oxide Radio – Oxford University’s student radio station. Featuring aliens, death by duel, Indiana Jones and the weekly maths puzzle for you to solve. Plus music from Rise Against, Good Charlotte and Asking Alexandria…

Funbers Pi

Funbers continues with the number Pi – undoubtedly a mathematician’s favourite food and also a universal constant that is built into the very fabric of the universe… If that sounds like a bold claim be sure to listen below to find out why…

You can listen to all of the Funbers episodes from BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and BBC Radio Oxford here.

BBC Cambridgeshire Interview

Starting from my love of multiplication questions at primary school, I talk about my new role as a maths tutor at the University of Oxford, what a typical day looks like for the Naked Mathematician and give a sneak preview of my upcoming talk at New Scientist Live later this year… Live interview with BBC Radio Cambridgeshire.


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