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Dr Geoff Smith
Dr Geoff Smith

Press Release - 08 October 2007

TV documentary highlights ‘beautiful young minds’ of autistic children

A Bath academic who works with the UK’s brightest young mathematicians is taking part in a TV documentary that will highlight the special abilities of some children with autism (BBC 2, 9.00-10.30pm on Sunday 14 October 2007).

The film, called Beautiful young minds, follows the lives of a group of secondary school children as they prepare for the International Mathematical Olympiad, a contest in which the brightest young mathematicians from around the world compete against each other.

Dr Geoff Smith, from the University of Bath’s Department of Mathematical Sciences, helps select and train the team that represents the UK. Most years, some of the children who take part in the competition are on the autistic spectrum.

Autism is characterised by impairments in social interaction and communication, but for some children with the disorder it can mean they are especially gifted at mathematics and solving logic-based problems.

“Some children find it hard to function in a normal classroom environment, but mathematics training camps and competitions give them an environment almost tailored to meet their needs,” said Dr Smith.

“Of course not all children who are autistic are good at maths, and the vast majority of mathematicians do not exhibit autistic behaviour”.

“The film follows the lives of several competitors, and shows how they can flourish in the right environment.”

“The programme also highlights the wealth of mathematics talent that there is in the UK, and around the world.”

About 20 young mathematicians from secondary schools across the UK are selected for intense training each year. Six are chosen for the Olympiad itself, which in 2007 was in Vietnam and involved 520 young mathematicians from around the world.

The competition is based around two exams that are four and a half hours long each. Overall, the competitors answer six questions with seven marks available for each question. The competitors are awarded medals depending on their ranking in the final table.

The first International Mathematical Olympiad took place in 1959. A large number of former UK competitors have gone on to become academics, but others have gone on to work for hedge funds and investment banks. Two former members of the UK team, Borcherds and Gowers, have gone on to win Fields medals, the mathematical equivalent of Nobel prizes.

The film will also be screened at the Bath Film Festival on Saturday 3 November 2007. A panel involving Dr Smith, director Morgan Matthews and BBC commissioning editor for documentaries, Richard Klein, will be available for a question and answer session after the showing.

Beautiful young minds will be screened on Saturday 3 November at 7.30pm at BRSLI, 16-18 Queens Square, Bath. Tickets cost £4 / 3 and are available from the box office 01225 463362 / 0871 7042061.

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