Public Understanding of Mathematics

The Institute's public programs aim to make mathematics accessible and exciting to those outside the field, showcasing the beauty and importance of math to people of all ages and backgrounds. We do this through initiatives ranging from production of films for public television and internet viewers to nationwide festivals, annual awards, and Bay Area community programming.

Film & Video - National Events & Initiatives - Bay Area Programs - Calendar of Public Events



Numberphile: MSRI / SLMath sponsors one of YouTube's most popular informal math channels, with over 4.2 million subscribers and over 670 million views as of Spring 2023, with extended content on Numberphile2.

Numberphile Podcast: Numberphile is now a podcast, too! Join host Brady Haran and visiting mathematicians and friends for these long-form audio discussions. Guests have included fellow YouTuber Grant Sanderson (3blue1brown), former NFL player turned MIT mathematician John Urschel, Numberphile stars Hannah Fry and Holly Krieger, authors Simon Singh and Steven Strogatz, and many more!

Tadashi's Toys: Tadashi Tokieda loves to share his toys: in this case, objects you can make in a matter of minutes at home, which illustrate principles of mathematics. Dr. Tokieda has partnered with journalist and filmmaker Brady Haran of Numberphile to demonstrate these tricky objects.

Zala Films Partnership

Journeys of Black Mathematicians (2024): MSRI is currently in production on our next joint project with Zala Films, with title Journeys of Black Mathematicians. This film aims to share the largely untold history of African-Americans in science and mathematics, featuring interviews with prominent, contemporary Black mathematicians and showcasing innovative educational programs in math for Black students from grade school through postsecondary and postdoctoral levels. The project aims to inspire young people, particularly African-Americans, to pursue careers in the mathematical sciences. The film’s release date is anticipated in January 2024 at the Joint Mathematics Meetings (JMM) in San Francisco. The production of this film is supported by the Simons Foundation and the Hilde Mosse Foundation.

Secrets of the Surface: The Mathematical Vision of Maryam Mirzakhani (2020): This one-hour documentary film is about Maryam Mirzakhani, a brilliant mathematician and Iranian immigrant to the United States who became a superstar in her field. She was awarded a Fields Medal, one of the highest honors in mathematics, just a few years before her untimely death to cancer in 2018. The story of her life is complemented with sections about Mirzakhani’s mathematical contributions, as explained by colleagues and illustrated with animated sequences. This film premiered at the 2020 Joint Mathematics Meetings in Denver; it is now available for purchase on DVD and Blu-Ray, as well as available for screening at theaters and educational institutions worldwide.

Navajo Math Circles (2016): Navajo students enter into a lively collaboration with mathematicians in after-school programs and a summer camp at Diné College in Arizona. Against the challenges of education on the Navajo Nation, the film highlights the connections between Navajo culture, natural beauty, and mathematics, and as well as the hopes of parents, students, and teachers for a brighter future. This film has been nationally broadcast on public television beginning in fall of 2016, and is available for purchase on DVD or streaming video.

Counting from Infinity: Yitang Zhang and the Twin Prime Conjecture (2015): In April 2013, Yitang Zhang, a lecturer at the University of New Hampshire, submitted a paper to the Annals of Mathematics. Within weeks word spread-- a little-known mathematician had made an important breakthrough towards solving the Twin Prime Conjecture, an enormously challenging problem in Number Theory. This film has been nationally broadcast on public television beginning in spring of 2017.

Taking the Long View: The Life of Shiing-Shen Chern (2011): The biographical documentary follows the life of Shiing-shen Chern, a remarkable mathematician whose formidable mathematical contributions were matched by an approach and vision that helped build bridges between China and the West.

For additional video productions, visit the Film & Video page. For math lectures recorded at MSRI scientific workshops, visit the Video Archive.


Mathical Book Prize: Math is more than numbers and equations! The Mathical Book Prize aims to inspire a love of mathematics in the everyday world in children of all ages. Each year’s winners and honor books join a selective and ever-growing list of new and previously published fiction and non-fiction titles. Mathical titles are as varied as the intersection between literature and mathematics—they encompass picture books, novels, poetry collections, puzzle books, biographies, and more! Mathical is organized by MSRI in partnership with the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), the Children's Book Council (CBC), and the generous support of the Firedoll Foundation. Mathical winners are announced in spring of each year, and the publisher submission period is in summer. For more information, visit the Mathical Book Prize website.


National Math Festival: The National Math Festival brings together some of the most fascinating mathematicians of our time to inspire and challenge participants to see math in new and exciting ways. The 2015, 2017, and 2019 National Math Festivals took place at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in downtown Washington, DC, and at science museums around the country. The 2021 Festival was held virtually due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and 2022 featured an online partnership with the North Carolina Science Festival. For more information about future events, subscribe to the Festival email newsletter or visit the National Math Festival website.

The Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival, which began in partnership with MSRI in 2007, is now an independent non-profit organization working nationwide to share math festivals. Visit their homepage for more information.

Congressional Briefings: MSRI and the American Mathematical Society (AMS) host two Congressional briefings on mathematical topics each year in Washington, D.C. to inform members of Congress and Congressional staff about new developments made possible through federal support of basic science research. As of Spring 2023, these briefings are now a joint project of the NSF Math Institutes nationwide.

AMS/MSRI Math Circles Library: In the interest of fostering a greater awareness and appreciation of mathematics and its connections to other disciplines and everyday life, MSRI and the American Mathematical Society (AMS) publish the Mathematical Circles Library series as a service to young people, their parents and teachers, and the mathematics profession. The books come from several sources: translations of suitable books from Russian or Eastern European sources, books written in English for this audience, and practical books for and written by organizers of Math Circles.

The former MSRI National Association of Math Circles (NAMC) is now part of the Math Circle Network at the American Institute of Mathematics' Math Communities initiative.

CME Group-MSRI Prize in Innovative Quantitative Applications: The CME Group-MSRI Prize recognizes an individual or a group for originality and innovation in the use of mathematical, statistical or computational methods for the study of the behavior of markets, and more broadly of economics. The prize recipient receives a commemorative bronze medallion and a cash award of $50,000, presented at a celebration held at the CME Group headquarters in Chicago. Many past Prize recipients have gone on to receive the Nobel Prize in Economics.

Celebratio Mathematica: Volumes Celebrated by MSRI: Celebratio Mathematica is a new open-access scholarly web publication that celebrates mathematics and related fields, and their people. It is structured as a series of collected-works volumes or, rather, enhanced guides to the collected works of selected scientists, with the added advantages of electronic media. Celebratio Mathematica organizes, displays and preserves biographic and bibliographic information, indexing all documents deemed worthy of inclusion in a collected-works volume. MSRI has supported the creation of multiple volumes dedicated to honoring women mathematicians, including Joan S. Birman, Dusa McDuff, Cathleen Synge Morawetz, Karen Uhlenbeck, and Ingrid Daubechies.

Guerilla Science: Soundscape Sculptures: Guerilla Science create events and installations to connect people with science in new ways, producing live experiences that entertain, inspire, challenge and amaze. MSRI has partnered with Guerilla Science to bring the Fire Organ – the mutant offspring of a Rubens’ tube and a traditional pipe organ – to music festivals and dance parties across the US and UK.


Learn more about upcoming Bay Area events by subscribing to MSRI's Public Announcements email newsletter.

Celebration of Mind: The Celebration of Mind uses puzzles, games, and magic to delight, instruct, and bring people together in a spirit of fun, both at annual gatherings and as a year-round repository of resources. As Martin Gardner said, you can learn more when you’re in a state of entrancement, and so around October 21st of every year, Celebration of Mind events all over the world share the legacy and many interests of this prolific, accessible American writer, who over a 50-year period introduced general audiences to many fascinating topics in mathematics and science. While these events have been disrupted by the pandemic, visit the Gathering 4 Gardner Foundation homepage.

Bay Area Math Olympiad (BAMO): Middle and high school students from throughout the Bay Area participate in the Bay Area Math Olympiad exam each February to try their hand at increasingly difficult mathematical problem solving and proofs. Following the exam scoring period, an award ceremony and family celebration for all participants is held in the Bay Area in March of each year.

Harmonic Series Concerts: MSRI hosts a series of free public concerts during our fall and spring programs, bringing in local and visiting musicians from a variety of genres to perform in the Eisenbud Auditorium for the enjoyment of all. For concert news, subscribe to the Institute's Public Announcements email newsletter.

Art at SLMath: MSRI works with local artists and photographers to host exhibits of prints in our second floor common spaces, available to view by the public during regular building hours. (The MSRI / SLMath building is currently open to the mathematical community, and the general public is invited to public receptions via our Public Announcements email newsletter.)

MSRI at the Commonwealth Club: The Commonwealth Club of California is the nation's oldest and largest public affairs forum, bringing together its 20,000 members for more than 400 annual events on topics ranging across politics, culture, society and the economy. MSRI has partnered with the Club to host public programs featuring some of the world's most interesting mathematical scientists, including Fields Medalist Cédric Villani, world-renowned theoretical physicist Sir Roger Penrose, and mathematical magician Mark Mitton.

Not on the Test: The Pleasure and Uses of Mathematics Lecture Series: MSRI has partnered with Berkeley City College in downtown Berkeley to host a series of free public lectures on the math behind topics ranging from Pixar animation to internet voting and DNA manipulation. You can view recordings of many past presentations at the link above.