James is a mathematician with a personal passion for maths communication and the promotion of mathematics in schools and to the general public. He can be mostly found doing exactly that, either touring the world giving public talks, or on YouTube.
James has a PhD in mathematics and his academic interests include group theory (the mathematics of symmetry) and combinatorics (the mathematics of networks and solving problems with diagrams and pictures). James also has a keen interest in cryptography (the mathematics of codes and secret messages), probability (games, gambling and predicting the future) and number theory (the properties of numbers).
James loves the maths and remembers watching Johnny Ball leaping about on TV explaining the parabolic path of projectiles, yet is puzzled that Zoe never mentions it. And the theme tune of the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures still gives him chills of excitement – yes he was that type of geek.
James went on to study mathematics at Lancaster university. He was attracted by the challenge of the analytical and creative thought required in a maths degree, but it was probably the lack of essays and reading list he found most attractive. Later, James went to York university with the aim of getting a PhD and avoiding the real world for at least another three years. He was successful on both counts.
After working in research in combinatorics and group theory, James joined the Millennium Mathematics Project from the University of Cambridge. On their behalf James ran The Enigma Project, with the aim to bring mathematics to life through the fascinating history and mathematics of codes and code breaking. Spies! Secrets! And secret messages!
James travelled extensively giving public talks and visiting schools, colleges, universities, festivals and other events, and reaching 12,000 people, of all ages, every year. Touring took James all over the UK, and the world, and involved talks for Google, Microsoft, RSA conference, Maths Inspiration, Maths in Action, BrainStem (Perimeter Institute Canada), and various science festivals. James’ aim is to bring not only an in depth knowledge of mathematics to the talk, but also to present it in an accessible and fun style.
After leaving the Millennium Mathematics Project in 2014 James continues to give public talks on code breaking and other topics.
In 2008 James started making maths videos on YouTube on his own channel called “singingbanana” (why not). These were made to entertain a few friends, so James was thrilled to when he reached 100 subscribers, ecstatic when he reached 1000 subscribers, and now exploding from joy with over 100,000 subscribers. The videos are a series of problems, tricks, and whatever mathematical things James happens to find interesting that week.
In 2011 James was contacted by video journalist Brady Haran (periodicvideos, sixtysymbols) to help create a new maths channel called Numberphile. This series uses numbers to introduce people to mathematics, including current news. Numberphile involves a team of contributors and is one of the most popular channels on YouTube, with over 1,000,000 subscribers.
Through his videos, public talks and other work, James hopes to explain to kids and general audiences why he love his maths so much, to challenge some of the public’s misconceptions, and to explain why he considers it a beautiful subject in a way that is closer to an art.
In his spare time James has many hobbies, including juggling, unicycling and a great number of other circus skills, and has finally embraced the fact that his ultimate purpose in life may be simply to make a fool of himself in public.
James was very disappointed when they changed the Royal Institution theme tune.