Coralie Colmez's idiosyncratic combination of Gallic good looks, quiet intellect, a warm, unassuming personality, and an ultra cool dress sense that veers between hipster and high fashion is magnetic. She seems at once sagacious and young, joyful about life and eager to shop, eat cake and discuss boys and traveling. In the last few months, she has escaped to Mozambique and Paris and is planning more holidays, enjoying the sun and sea.
Coralie, however, is also one of the UK's hottest new authors, and she has a mission.
Math On Trial, a non-fiction chronicle of ten criminal cases where bad mathematics led to a wrong conviction or acquittal, is Coralie's first book, out now in hardback.
Photo by Natacha Colmez
The cases, including murder, forgery, sex discrimination, a financial scam and an accusation of spying, were chosen for their intrigue, as Coralie and Harvard-educated co-author, mathematician Leila Schneps, are intent on popularising the oft-stigmatised subject of Maths.
"Books like Freakonomics and Bad Science prove that, contrary to popular belief, people are actually very interested in hearing about science and mathematics explained in an exciting and interesting context. Leila and I feel it is important for people to grasp basic facts of statistics and probability, as when they are so little understood it is very easy to pass misleading or wrong facts to the population in ads, polls or stories. The ten criminal cases are a powerful illustration of how not understanding maths can lead to some serious consequences."
With her next book, Coralie takes her goal a step further. Having graduated with a 1st class degree in Mathematics from Cambridge, and subsequently worked on a report for the government about maths education, Coralie noticed a discrepancy between the image of female and male mathematicians.
"The further you go in your studies, the fewer girls there are. 35% of people doing math at A level are girls and during my degree at Cambridge it was only about 25%. This happens even though there is no significant difference in how good girls and boys are at maths up to GCSE, which indicates that it is more a matter of how maths is perceived by girls rather than their ability. Maths for girls has stigma attached to it. The makers of Barbie actually released a doll that said "Math is tough"! That's definitely something I want to erase with my book."
Coralie's new project is a novel-cum-textbook covering the content of the A Level C1 course. As she explains: 'The story centres on a teenage girl who is herself taking the C1 course. She has a crazy/awesome best friend, a boyfriend who she likes but maybe isn't in love with, and complicated parents. Then one day, the boy she has been lusting over asks for her help: his father has disappeared and he needs her maths expertise."
Coralie explains: "I wanted to engage girls with an entertaining story, as well as presenting a strong female lead who is very good at maths and comfortable with that."
Leila and Coralie hope both books will engage popular audiences and free maths of its stigma, particularly for women and girls, as Russian grandmaster Alexandra Kosteniuk, profiled in American Vogue, has managed to unburden chess of its uncool stature.
"I won't say that I want there to be as many girls doing maths as boys, but I don't want people to see a girl who is good at maths as out of the ordinary, and I don't want any girl to not go on with her maths studies because it's not cool or her friends aren't doing it or she thinks she won't be as good as the boys. I personally think that being good at maths is very cool!"