The maths of chocolate fountains

Adam Townsend and the chocolate fountain

Photo courtesy of the LMS

Talking chocolate at Taking Maths Further at Bournemouth University. Photo by Jo Sibley.

Talking chocolate at Taking Maths Further at Bournemouth University. Photo by Jo Sibley.

Students enjoying tucking in

Students enjoying the spoils of maths at the Royal Institution. Photo by Luciano Rila.

Delicious, obviously, but would you believe they’re full of maths? In my most popular pop-maths talk, we find out how to make predictions for chocolatey flows, and then work out (a) whether we can use other types of chocolate, (b) whether we could make a pioneering ketchup fountain, and (c) why chocolate fountains fall inwards, not directly downwards.

I give talks of various lengths on the maths behind chocolate fountains semi-regularly. I’ve enjoyed talking to all audiences: these have been at large KS4 enrichment days, at the Royal Institution, at academic colloquia, and for a more pop-science adult audience at Science Showoff. (Featuring: what makes a man visit the Windows XP hill?)

Although adapted to fit the audience, everything I present here comes from my master’s project, which was published in a research journal in 2015, so it’s genuine applied maths research! And I always bring the fountain to every talk. Topics brought in include:

  • good and bad models for everyday things (and how to tell between them),
  • how mayonnaise and cornflour paste react in opposite ways when hit,
  • the link between these liquids and the graphs of $y = x^n$ for different $n$,
  • why teapots drip backwards (and how we could fix this).

Media coverage:
The chocolate fountain project has been featured in The Washington Post, the Daily Mail and the Smithsonian Institution (among others). I spoke about it on the radio to BNR News Radio in the Netherlands, and back home to Heart Breakfast with Ed & Rachel. I was even lucky enough to present to Parliament in 2015.

The maths of music theory

Tracking chord progressions over a torus

Tracking chord progressions over a torus

I gave a talk to the UCL Undergraduate Maths Colloquium in February 2011 on an introduction to Music Theory for mathematicians. I provide some notes that I compiled my slides from, although they differ quite heavily from the content and style of my talk: there’s a lot more mathematics and a lot less bad singing on the keyboard.