50+ years of Parabola
The first issue of Parabola appeared in July 1964. This magazine was published by UNSW under the editorial direction of senior academics from the School of Mathematics, UNSW as well as editorial board members from Sydney University, the Australian National University, the NSW Department of Education and the Mathematical Association of NSW. The main focus of Parabola at this time was to provide mathematical problems and puzzles to challenge the 'insight, ingenuity and determination' of secondary school students 'to the limit'. The first issue of Parabola contained a letter of introduction from the then Vice-Chancellor of UNSW, Professor JP Baxter. The reasons for launching Parabola, as stated by Professor Baxter, are just as vital today as they were then:
There is a world-wide shortage of both (scientists and mathematicians), particularly of mathematicians, which, if it is not met by the present generation of students, will continue to retard the rate of technological advance for many years to come. [...] Mathematics is not only an important study in its own right, but is essential for a full understanding of almost all other sciences, physical and social. [...] If it (Parabola) should succeed in introducing gifted students to the delights of mathematics and in inducing some to embark upon a mathematical career, it will have been a source of benefit, not only to the individuals thus affected, but ultimately to the community as a whole.
The particular role of mathematical problems in helping to achieve the above aims was emphasized by the first editor of Parabola, Charles Cox, who pointed out that the 'flash of inspiration after complete concentration', which is a prominent feature of mathematical problem solving, is part of the 'creative experience which transforms the career of a professional mathematician from merely a daily job (well paid and secure nonetheless) to a continual source of adventure and delight'.
UNSW School of Mathematics Competition
Parabola has also published problems and solutions from the UNSW School of Mathematics Competition for Junior (up to and including Year 10) and Senior (Years 11, 12) secondary school students in New South Wales and the ACT for half a century. This competition is the longest running competition of its type in Australia. Each year about 1200 students participate and the results of the UNSW Schools Mathematics Competition aretaken into account in the selection of the Australian team in the International Mathematical Olympiad.
Problems remain a prominent focus of Parabola but there has also been a strong record of publications of articles on maths to inspire students, often written by inspiring students. These articles are often about the timeless beauty, power and relevance of mathematics, or describe new research by the authors, or are just fun to read. That Parabola has continued for more than half a century is a testament to the dedication of a succession of editors and editorial board members from the School of Mathematics and Statistics, UNSW, but none more so than Professor George Szekeres. Professor Szekeres, who was appointed Chair of Pure Mathematics at UNSW in 1963, was instrumental in establishing Parabola and was a member of its Editorial Board, without interruption, from Parabola's inception until shortly before his death in 2005.
Quality exposition of genuine mathematics
Parabola underwent a facelift in 2002 after the The Australian Mathematics Trust took on the role of publisher and distributor. A new and glossier cover, clear typeset pages and a wider distribution to secondary schools throughout Australia helped to consolidate Parabola as an enduring publication.
In 2005 Parabola merged with another mathematical magazine for high school students, Function. Function's foundation came later than Parabola's, but its purpose was essentially the same: to provide quality exposition of genuine mathematics for students in the upper years of secondary school. It was published by Monash University, and its founder and first editor was Professor Gordon Preston. From its first issue in 1977 until its final independent appearance in 2004, it tried to achieve the goals of presenting to this target readership the flavour of mathematics, as practised at the frontiers of the subject, to extend the horizons of the students beyond the focus of the classroom, to set challenging problems that lay nonetheless within the power of readers to solve, and to keep members of its audience up to date with happenings in the mathematical world. The central focus was always the mathematics, not the other issues that (rightly) concern teachers of the subject. Over the years, it attracted many dedicated readers: students, teachers, and others who were simply enthusiasts for the subject. It published many excellent articles, as well as elegant solutions to difficult problems, and regular updates on the International Mathematical Olympiads and other such competitions. Sadly, spiralling costs meant that it ran at a substantial loss over its final two years, and it became impossible for Monash University to continue to subsidise it. Its merger with Parabola brought the benefit of becoming a truly national journal. Sadly, Michael Deakin died in 2014. He was the main editor of Function, a tremendously prolific and talented disseminator of mathematics, many of whose excellent articles graced the pages of Parabola while it incorporated Function. He was also the last remaining member of the Function staff, so in 2016, Parabola reverted to its previous title.
Our web presence began in 2009 with the Parabola Online Project, initiated by a grant from the U-Committee of UNSW. Our redesigned website was launched in 2014. Parabola incorporating Function became an online-only journal from the start of 2015, continuing from 2016 onwards as Parabola, and the role of publisher and distributor by The Australian Mathematics Trust was discontinued.
Parabola is unique
Parabola remains the only peer-reviewed mathematics magazine for secondary schools in Australia - and is one of only a few such journals worldwide. The original aims of our predecessors are arguably even more vital today than they were then, and now that Parabola is now available online, our readership is now from all over the world, as are our article contributors. The fact that Parabola continues without any external financial support serves as a reminder that the need for greater mathematics enrichment remains.