“A University must be a place of inclusiveness and tolerance” Dill Faulkes

On Thursday 3 May the University of Hull welcomed back to campus entrepreneur and philanthropist Dr Martin “Dill” Faulkes (1965, Special Mathematics). Almost 120 alumni, students, staff and friends of the University packed out the Austen/Blake Room in Canham Turner to hear about his career, his thoughts on the importance and role of a mathematics education, and his philanthropic work including The Faulkes Telescope Project and the Faulkes Flying Foundation.

You can watch the full video of his lecture here

The Vice Chancellor, Professor Susan Lea, welcomed guests by introducing the “Inspired in Hull” lecture series and its strategic and symbolic importance in the University. She referenced the philanthropic work of Dr Faulkes as being representative of the values contained within the concept – his work and success began with his University of Hull education, and amongst the fruits of his success is the passion for science and maths education that he seeks to inspire in young people through his philanthropic work. Professor Brad Gibson, the evening’s host, then introduced Dr Faulkes with a story about the relevance of his PhD thesis on general relativity. The average lifecycle of a PhD thesis is to see its number of citations dwindle after a few years before they stop completely. For Dr Faulkes, however, the life of his thesis is quite remarkable. In recent years, there has been renewed interest in his research, which has regained its relevance over time.

Mathematics has been central to Dr Faulkes’ life, and it was clear that he saw its importance and influence not just in his academic work, but also in his career after academia. He spoke at length about the role of the university in society, and the need for tolerance, debate and intellectual independence in universities and faculties, before a rip-roaring tour through his career, filled with anecdotes about locking horns with managers, following his instinct and seizing opportunities. This even included a story about three days spent without food in a prison cell in Thailand following a technical immigration offence!

As a student at the University of Hull, Dr Faulkes was a member of the Flying Squadron, and this was a crucial, formative experience. He talked about remembering the discipline it instilled in him, which he describes as the foundation of succeeding in life. It was this experience that inspired him to set up the Faulkes Flying Foundation to give disadvantaged students the opportunity to learn and develop this key skills.

Describing the experience of dyslexic students flying planes for the first time, Dr Faulkes quoted their frequent refrain: “I can do this, I’m not stupid” in a heart warming story about how these opportunities can provide a positive and life changing experience for students and young people.

Dr Faulkes ended his talk by discussing his current work as Chairman of the Board of Directors at Volition RX, a company that is developing a technology that will enable testing for cancer using a non-invasive blood test. Instead of complicated, difficult and potentially embarrassing processes for determining whether or not a patient has cancer, the technology that Volition RX are developing would make a cancer diagnosis as simple and straightforward as a diagnosis for diabetes.

The evening ended with questions from an audience who were evidently enthused by Dr Faulkes’ ideas and stories. The questions varied from technical questions about the technology he was working with, to ideas about engaging young learners with a passion for astronomy.

You can watch the full video of his lecture here

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