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Understand the equations that explain the universe

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Understand the equations that explain the universe
2 September 2023
10:00am - 5:00pm

New Scientist presents ...

Instant Expert: The equations that explain the universe

Saturday 2 September, 10am - 5pm | Cavendish Conference Centre, 22 Duchess Mews, London, W1G 9DT

Equations are the bedrock of science, expressing how numbers or physical properties relate at a fundamental level. Without equations, most of our technology would never have been invented. We may have got fire or the wheel, but without equations’ ability to calculate and predict we would be stuck in the technological dark ages. Equations have brought us radio, computers and sent us to the moon, and are an ideal lens to view the key developments in science.

At this event, six expert speakers will guide you on a tour of the most fascinating equations that explain our universe. On the way you’ll discover the famous Drake equation which estimates the number of alien civilizations, why the seemingly simple Pythagorean theorem holds massive power, how Newton devised the law of gravity and how the Second Law of Thermodynamics has become so iconic. You'll find a set of equations worth $1million to anyone who can solve them and you'll end with a deep dive into the most famous equation in all of science, E=mc2.

Hosted by a New Scientist journalist, our one-day masterclass offers the chance to learn directly from the experts in the fascinating field of mathematics.

Topics covered will include:

  • The Pythagorean Theorem
  • Newton's Equations
  • Second Law of Thermodynamics
  • Drake Equation
  • Navier-Stokes Equation
  • E=MC2

Talks and speakers:

The Pythagorean Theorem

Sarah Hart, Professor of Mathematics, Birkbeck College

One of the first equations we learn in school, the Pythagorean theorem has been known about for thousands of years. But how does it work, and why is it so important? Join Sarah Hart for a deep dive into all things Pythagorean. We’ll find out how the relationship between the sides of right-angled triangles was discovered and used in the ancient world, as well as its modern applications. Sarah will also reveal the mathematical trail of breadcrumbs leading from this simple geometrical fact to the famous ‘Fermat’s Last Theorem’.

Newton's Equations

Robert Iliffe, Professor of the History of Science, University of Oxford

Isaac Newton is responsible for some of the most famous equations in all of science, from his laws of motion to his version of calculus. His work predicted the existence of Neptune and was used to calculate the flight paths of the moon landings. Today, his equations are so embedded in how we think about the world they almost seem like common sense. But they were completely revolutionary when Newton first announced them in the 17th Century. Join Newton expert Robert Iliffe to discover the hidden power of Newton’s work and find out why Newton continues to be an iconic figure in the history of science.

Second Law of Thermodynamics

Andrew Steane, Professor of physics, University of Oxford

The second law of thermodynamics means hot things always cool unless you do something about it. It expresses a fundamental and simple truth about the universe: that it has a sense of permanent change and direction, characterised in the increase of a quantity known as entropy. This idea underlies a vast range of what is going on in the universe, from Bunsen burners to black hole mergers, from developing foetuses to stabilizing quantum computers. In this talk we’ll learn about entropy and why it is not about muddled pairs of socks but it is about the growth of trees and the boundaries of life. Maybe this is why the second law has become so iconic.

Drake Equation

Lewis Dartnell, Professor of science communication, University of Westminister 

The Drake equation is used to estimate the number of active, communicative extra-terrestrial civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy. The equation is based on a number of factors, including the rate of star formation, the fraction of stars with planets, the fraction of planets that could support life, the fraction of planets with life that develop intelligent life, the fraction of intelligent civilisations that develop technology, and the fraction of civilisations that survive long enough to communicate with us. Lewis Dartnell will reveal the history of the Drake equation, why it gives a surprising answer, and the challenges of estimating the number of extra-terrestrial civilizations.

Navier-Stokes Equation

Tom Crawford, Mathematician, University of Oxford

The Navier-Stokes equations can be used to describe the motion of anything which behaves like a fluid: water, air, ice, even sand - these all exhibit fluid-like properties and as such are modelled by Navier-Stokes. The equations have existed for nearly 200 years, and we use them every day to solve complex problems such as space flight, flood defences and drug delivery in the body, yet we know so little about them there is a literal $1-million prize for anyone that can help us to improve our understanding. In this talk, Dr Tom Crawford will outline what the Navier-Stokes equations represent, where they come from, and the questions we likely need to answer if we are to truly unlock the secrets hidden within these fascinating equations. 


David Bodanis, Author, University of Oxford

Probably the most famous equation of them all, E=mc2 results from Einstein’s theory of special relativity and expresses the fact that mass and energy are the same physical entity and can be changed into each other. It’s simplicity is its power, as it unites two fundamental physical qualities of mass and energy. Join historian and bestselling author David Bodanis, who will explore why E=mc2, how Einstein formulated this equation and why is it so famous to physicists and members of the public alike.

Who should attend?

Anyone interested in mathematics and physics, whatever your age or background. Whether you're a scientist, a student or simply a fascinated human being, Instant Expert: The equations that explain the universe offers the chance to learn directly from the experts at our one-day masterclass.

Benefits of attending:

  • Become an expert in one day
  • Informal set-up, meet like minded people
  • Open your mind, be inspired
  • Unique chance to ask your burning questions to our experts

What's included in your ticket:

  • In-depth and engaging talks from six leading scientists
  • Ask-an-expert Question Time session
  • Your chance to meet our six speakers and New Scientist host
  • Buffet lunch, plus morning and afternoon refreshments
  • Exclusive Instant Expert certificate
  • Exclusive on-the-day New Scientist subscription deal, book and merchandise offers

Booking information:

The event will be held at the Cavendish Conference Centre, 22 Duchess Mews, London W1G 9DT.Doors will open at 9:15am, with talks commencing at 10am sharp. The event will finish at 5pm.We require the name of each person attending - please ensure this is provided at the time of booking. If you need to change the name of an attendee, please notify us as soon as possible: live@newscientist.comEventbrite will email you your ticket(s) immediately after purchase. Please remember to bring your ticket(s) with you as you'll need it to gain entry. We can scan tickets from a print out, or off the screen of a phone / tablet / smartwatch.The ticket price includes a buffet lunch, as well as morning and afternoon refreshments.The schedule / exact running order for the day will be confirmed closer to the event, and will be emailed to all ticket holders.Should you require details about disabled access, please contact us at: live@newscientist.comTickets are non-transferable to any other New Scientist event.All tickets are non-refundable. New Scientist reserves the right to alter the event and its line-up, or cancel the event. In the unlikely event of cancellation, all tickets will be fully refunded. New Scientist Ltd will not be liable for any additional expenses incurred by ticket holders in relation to the event.Tickets are subject to availability and are only available in advance through Eventbrite.A limited number of discounted early bird tickets priced at £129 have been made available, saving £20 on the full ticket price of £149. Tickets can be purchased by clicking on the "Buy" button at the top of this page, if still available.

Understand the equations that explain the universe
2 September 2023
10:00am - 5:00pm