School of Mathematical Sciences



1881:Civic College 


Nottingham's first civic college was opened in the city centre in 1881, four years after the foundation stone was laid by former Prime Minister, W E Gladstone. An anonymous benefactor offered £10,000 to help fund the college on the condition that a suitable building be erected by the council and that the college should be provided with £4,000 a year.


1882 - 1884: William Garnett

William Garnett was the first Professor of Mathematics and Physics at University College, Nottingham. This was the first municipal college in England.


1884 – 1919: Principal Heaton

Principal Heaton took up the position as head of Physics and Mathematics, which he held for 35 years. In 1919 the Physics and Mathematics schools were separated. Professor Barton became head of the Physics department and Dr Piaggio, formerly senior lecturer, was appointed as the first professor of the new Department of Mathematics.  



1919-1950:Henry Thomas Herbert Piaggio


In 1948, when University College, Nottingham received its Royal Charter and became The University of Nottingham, Professor Piaggio was one of the oldest surviving members of staff, having been appointed as a lecturer in Mathematics in 1908. A scholar whose classic book on differential equations, first published in 1920, was still being used extensively by students in many universities well into the 1960s, Piaggio was dean of the faculty of Pure Science during the crucial years 1944 – 47 when the new Nottingham BSc degree was planned and he remained to see the first students embark on the degree. Previously, students at University College, Nottingham had taken the London University External Degree.



1928:The move to University Park


After the First World War, the college began to outgrow its original building. A generous gift by Sir Jesse Boot, of 35 acres of land at Highfields, presented the solution and in 1928 the college moved to what is now the main campus, University Park. Initially, it was accommodated solely in the elegant Trent Building and was officially opened by King George V in November of that year.

Even in its early days on this site, the college attracted high profile visiting lecturers including Professor Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi and H G Wells. The blackboard used by Einstein with all of his writing still intact can be seen today in the Mathematics and Physics building.



1948:Becoming The University of Nottingham


In 1948, the college was awarded the Royal Charter and became The University of Nottingham, now able to award degrees in its own name.


1951 – 1964: HR Pitt

HR Pitt was invited to come and take up the chair of Mathematics in January 1951 from Queen’s University, Belfast. His brief was to build up the strength of the department so that it would be able to sustain the high quality teaching for which it was already well known. Pitt presided over two developments which had a marked effect upon the work of the Department of Mathematics. The first was the creation of a new department of Theoretical Mechanics, responsible for the teaching of mathematics to all engineering students. The second development was the move into the new Maths and Physics building, completed in 1963.



1960:Creation of the Department of Theoretical Mechanics 


Until 1960 the Department of Mathematics taught mathematics to all students in the various engineering departments which made up the Faculty of Applied Science. In that year a new Department of Theoretical Mechanics was created which was expected to provide all the mathematics tuition required by engineering students.

The first Head of Department was J Adkins, who with two assistants taught all mathematics courses to first and second year engineering students as well as offering optional courses for finalists. A new degree course was launched with the aim of teaching mathematicians to apply their subject to industrial problems. When students enrolled on the degree course in theoretical mechanics in 1964, they were starting the first course of its kind in any British university.

In 1965 the Headship was taken by AJM Spencer, who subsequently did much to encourage staff to engage in fundamental research while taking up opportunities to collaborate with industry. In the next decade, Spencer, ably supported by T Rogers, strengthened the department and created substantial links with numerous blue-chip companies. Spencer was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1987 in recognition of his work on composite materials. The staff in the department became actively involved in pioneering Study Groups with Industry, which brought together research workers from industry with those from academia, with the aim of formulating industrial problems so that they might be resolved by analysis and computation.

In 1994 DS Riley and JR King were appointed to Chairs in the Department and, while retaining the excellent legacy created by Spencer, they secured University support to undertake the development of a world-class group in mathematical medicine and biology.


1964 - 1980: Heini Halberstam

Heini Halberstam succeeded Pitt in October 1964. Halberstam brought an entirely different style of leadership to the department and was keen to see mathematics expand at Nottingham. He increased undergraduate recruitment by developing an extensive network of contacts with local schools as well as introducing sixth form conferences. He also attracted more undergraduates to stay on at Nottingham to do research. Under Halbertstam’s influence other areas of mathematics were given prominence during the 1960’s, this included Statistics.


1965: Development of Statistics

In 1965, CWJ Granger, a former student in the Department of Mathematics, was elected to a Chair in Applied Statistics and Econometrics, and moved in 1974 to the University of California at San Diego. In 2004, Granger was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics and knighted in 2005. Statistics, however, did not become fully established until 1977 when AFM Smith was appointed to a Chair in Mathematical Statistics and became Head of Department. Smith initiated whole new areas of statistical research at Nottingham related to Bayesian inference, clinical diagnosis and medical decision-making before moving to a Chair at Imperial College. Smith was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2001 in recognition of his contribution to Statistics and became Director General, Science and Research. As the group has grown in size research interests have diversified and ranges across shape and image analysis to epidemic modelling.


1998: Creation of the School of Mathematical Sciences

In the 90s, the University decided to create larger units called Schools on a systematic basis. In 1998 The Department of Theoretical Mechanics and the Department of Mathematics merged to become The School of Mathematical Sciences.  The leadership of the Departments of Mathematics and of Theoretical Mechanics readily identified benefits in the form of, for example, economies of scale, richer student choice, the opportunity to develop higher level teaching programmes, and new research opportunities. In the years since the merger the School has grown and thrived.



Current Head of School: David Riley 


David Riley became Head of the newly formed School of Mathematical Sciences in 1998 and having served as Pro-Vice Chancellor, returned to the headship in 2009.  

School of Mathematical Sciences

The University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 4949
fax: +44 (0) 115 951 4951
email: maths-enquiries@nottingham.ac.uk