Kids’ University: Cracking Codes

11 07 2008
Maths and biology: at first glance perhaps unlikely bedfellows, but not for Heidelberg professor Angela Stevens — At school these were the two subjects that interested her most
Initially, Professor Angela Stevens studied mathematics in Cologne, with insurance mathematics as her subsidiary subject. But her love of biology prompted her to choose it as an additional subsidiary. That meant that a special curriculum had to be devised for the versatile young lady. Her diploma thesis dealt with a subject from pure mathematics, numbers theory, to be more precise. But her desire to find an application for maths in biology left her no peace. So for her doctorate she looked for a university where a combination of the two subjects was possible and hit on Heidelberg.

She did her doctoral dissertation under the supervision of Professor Willi Jäger at today’s Centre for Scientific Computing on pattern formation in bacterial cultures. Then she was off to Stanford for a while, returning from there to Leipzig and the Max Planck Institute of Mathematics in the Sciences.

Since April 2007 Angela Stevens has been a professor in Heidelberg and this was the second time she gave a lecture at the Kids’ University. She remembers the first occasion very well. “The children were absolutely spellbound,” she recalls. The subject of that lecture was metals with memories. This time the focus was on secret codes. This has nothing to do with biology, but in cryptography (the scientific name for secret codes) many mathematical models have been developed.

Incidentally, the lectures at the Kids’ University are not the only mathematical activity Angela Stevens dabbles in outside her research field proper. Together with other colleagues she has started the project “Book a Prof” ( School classes can invite a maths professor to come and talk to them, or they can visit the University themselves and listen to lectures on primary numbers, computer graphics, maths and music, and various other subjects.
Stefan Zeeh
© Rhein-Neckar-Zeitung

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University of Heidelberg
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