Stefan Gates: Why I love maths

October 25, 2016

Hello, you beautiful people! My name is Stefan Gates and I’m a TV presenter and author working in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). I’m so excited to be working with Explore Learning on the National Young Mathematicians’ Awards this year because I’m fascinated by the impact that a great maths education can have, not just on the lives of your nascent engineers, physicists and economists, but everyone.

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I chatted to the folks at Explore Learning in an interview to explain more about my love of maths and how I’ve come to be where I am today!

  • What inspired you to become the Gastronaut?

It’s all stemmed from a fascination with food. Then as time has progressed and my work become more about kid’s entertainment, I’ve been forced to dig deeper into food. Kids don’t take any nonsense, so you have to work hard to keep them entertained and that’s how it all came about as I had to get more creative!

The transition from food to science was a simple one and suddenly it became a very visual, interesting experience.

There’s no denying that kids are engaged by things being blown up on a stage. It’s about using what is usually considered something mundane or dull like food and asking ‘how big an explosion can 40 calories make?’

  • Were you a fan of maths at school?

I loved maths at school, I didn’t pursue it past O level (GSCEs of the past) – but I did find it easy. Although I went to Oxford University to take an English degree, my knowledge of maths has been a vital part of all of my STEM work, and without it I would never have been able to enjoy the strange and wonderful underworld of food. And that’s why every child needs a great maths education: so that they can thrive in whatever they end up choosing to do.

  • How important is maths to you now?

It’s now hugely important to me, particularly to my work with food. Taking a substance and breaking it down to see what it is made up of, maths plays an important role throughout that process.

My show Ecomaths explored questions like, ‘What is the relative protein content of Beef VS Snails’, (snails has much more by the way), and none of this can be calculated without maths. We were looking at what makes mathematical sense to feed the world with and the reason why it makes sense to eat insects is mathematical; the nutritional content and efficiency of an animal involves mathematical equations.

The fact is, maths is always there.

There are also the calculations involved in analysing the ‘food miles’ generated by certain food. For example the environmental impact of shipping foods is minimal compared to what we use to treat soil in the UK. I find that maths is a brilliant tool for getting to the truth behind opinions.

  • What advice would you give to children struggling with maths?

I would say that later on in life, you’re going to find that it is at the heart of everything you do and you will use it every single day so do your best and enjoy it!

It may seem hypothetical at the moment but before long you will realise all of the day to day practical uses for it. All computer game systems are based around maths, everything fun – when stripped down – is driven by maths.

Being good at maths is a building block for sure, if you are capable at maths it pipes up everywhere and in everything you do. It assists you across the board. Subjects like physics are hugely dependent on maths ability and it opens so many doors. I actually didn’t pursue the sciences in school to a higher level, but I am able to work using science now, partly as a result of my maths ability.

  • Why are you pleased to be working with Explore Learning?

I think Explore Learning is fantastic. Anything that gives children a chance to thrive is brilliant. When I’m performing for the kids, during these complex demonstrations, you can feel their excitement and can see their eyes light up and that is amazing because we desperately need kids to be engaged with maths and the sciences. And to do that, it is about helping them to understand how important these subjects are going to be to them in the future. That is where Explore Learning enter – if kids can get a great grounding on a subject now, the world is just waiting for them.

  • Do you have thoughts on education/tutoring at the moment?

I did a lot of acting as a child so I was regularly away from school, which meant I did at times have a tutor. I think it gives you a great advantage. It makes you feel special to have that kind of extra attention and it’s so good for your confidence. To be shifted just a little further ahead than those around you makes going to classes so much more enjoyable; you feel yourself breeze through them.

  • What are your plans for the future?

I’m currently writing Insects: An Edible Field Guide and trying to explain how cricket farming is much more efficient in comparison to beef farming (yes, really!).

I’m also performing the main auditorium headline shows at the vast Big Bang Fair at Birmingham’s NEC in March 2017, so do come along: it’s free and it’s aimed at school kids. This year my show is called ‘BodyHacking’, a look at the biochemistry, our electric bodies and the physics of MRI and X-rays. It’s about food, but it’s also soaked in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths.

  • Are you looking forward to the NYMA final? 

I can’t wait. Looking forward to meeting the kids, seeing them sparkle with confidence, ready to learn!

Find out more about Explore Learning’s National Young Mathematicians’ Awards, where Stefan will be presenting the prize to the winning team at the University of Cambridge! 

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