Simon Marais lecture

Dr Simon Marais Memorial Lecture

Bringing world renowned experts in mathematics and theoretical physics
Get inspired by Dr Simon Marais, one of Australia’s most-respected investors, remembered for his extraordinary intelligence, uncompromising integrity and fearless attitude.

Dr Simon Marais

About Dr Simon Marais

Dr Simon Marais was born in a rural town of Upington, South Africa in 1964. After obtaining a Master of Science at Stellenbosch University and a PhD in theoretical physics at Cambridge, he brought a compelling new style of ‘contrarian’ investing to the Australian funds management industry.

Working as Founder, Chief Executive and portfolio manager at fund manager Allan Gray Australia, Chairman of Allan Gray South Africa and previously as head of research at the global investment management firm Orbis Group, he built a reputation as the outstanding asset manager of his generation.

Dr Marais was compassionate, humble and passionate about conservation throughout his life. He was committed to teaching his children and would tutor his sons in maths irrespective of how demanding his professional schedule became. A constant source of inspiration to friends, colleagues and the mathematics students he tutored in his spare time, his essential optimism and leadership endures.

Established in 2016, this annual memorial lectureship commemorates Dr Simon Marais’ interest and commitment to mathematics, theoretical physics and education.

The University of Sydney was entrusted to continue his passion by his family to inspire our students to pursue mathematics and theoretical physics, strengthen the research community in these fields and engage the general public in these fields of work. The memorial lectures were held in 2017 - 2023.

Past Lectures

2023: Getting a handle on low-dimensional topology

Presented by Associate Professor Lisa Piccirillo, a mathematician from the Department of Mathematics at the University of Texas at Austin and also at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Both institutions are located in the United States. 

Topologists study manifolds, which are spaces that are locally very simple, but globally perhaps complicated. In dimensions three and higher, manifolds can be hard to visualize, because they cannot be embedded in 3-dimensional space.

Have you ever wondered how to visualise higher dimensional space? While no one can actually picture four (or more) dimensions, mathematicians have developed some tools that help us come close. Mathematicians who study spaces are known as topologists – topologists study locally simple but globally complex spaces, which are called manifolds. For example, the glaze on a doughnut is a 2-D manifold: if you zoom in it looks like a sheet of paper, but when you step back the space is more complex.  

In this talk, Associate Professor Lisa Piccirillo will introduce a toolkit for thinking about three and four dimensional manifolds. We’ll think about the peel of a four dimensional orange and what 3-D space you would want to live in to enable teleportation.

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Listen to Dr Karl and Professor Piccirillo unravel an age-old knotty problem with four dimensional topology.

2022: The Unseen Universe - How it Impacts the World We See

Presented by Professor Marcela Carena, Professor of Physics at the University of Chicago.

Most of the Universe is invisible, but still the invisibles determine our everyday existence.

There is an invisible energy field, related to the Higgs boson, that provides mass. There is dark matter that holds our galaxy together, but we have yet to detect it in the laboratory. There are virtual particles that can flicker into existence and disappear very quickly, but they affect the forces of Nature and the behavior of matter.

In this lecture Professor Marcela Carena will show exciting recent results from experiments at Fermilab in Chicago USA with particles called muons. These results may connect the effects of virtual particles to an explanation of dark matter, the existence of new forces in Nature, or to cousins of the Higgs boson that may change our understanding of the first instants of the Big Bang.

Podcast interviews with Dr Karl: Beyond Higgs and Dark Matter & Neutrinos

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2019: An intriguing journey in maths

Presented by Dr June Huh, Princeton University, and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, USA.

Mathematicians are mapmakers. They explore the realm of the abstract beyond what's known, to record notable features and connections. The most intriguing terrain can be found along the border of its two continents: the continuous and the discrete.

Explore the fascinating interplay between the two competing models of reality from historical, mathematical, and personal perspectives in this public lecture by Dr June Huh. He will share examples from the simplest mathematical objects: equations, numbers, graphs and spaces.

Join this astounding adventure in maths, where you’ll discover the very fabric of reality.

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2018: Decoding spacetime - The quantum computational universe

Presented by Professor Patrick Hayden, Stanford University – expert in physics and computer science, active in the fields of quantum information theory and quantum computing.

The amazing versatility of modern computers disguises their fundamental simplicity. In the near future, computers exploiting the strangeness of quantum mechanics will accomplish tasks that would defeat even the largest, fastest bit-based supercomputers.

Quantum computation isn’t just a technological advance, though. It could hold the key to explaining the origin of space itself. The same techniques that will be used to protect delicate quantum computer memories from corruption appear to be used by nature to stitch together the fabric of spacetime. This exciting public talk will be a tour of this remarkable confluence of the practical and the fundamental.

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2017: The mathematics of deja vu

Presented by Professor Amie Wilkinson, University of Chicago

Dynamics is an exciting area of mathematics concerned with the motion of spaces ("dynamical systems") over time. It continues to have applications in a wide variety of fields such as physics, biology, chemistry, medicine and economics. Professor Wilkinson answers questions using a mathematical version of déjà vu called 'recurrence'; including how we can mix and unmix two ideal gases in a box and describing the deep properties of the prime numbers or the existence of exoplanets in nearby solar systems.

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