Letters and numbers

In summary: 
  • Mathematics and biology student Lily Serna is co-cost of the SBS television show Letters and Numbers
  • She plans to undertake a PhD in environmental science when she finishes her degree, but says that her maths will always be useful

It’s not often a mathematician is asked to sign copies of her calculations. But for Lily Serna, it’s all in a day’s work.


The 2009 maths, finance and international studies graduate, is co-host of SBS’s Letters and Numbers.


Serna says she heard about the gig through a friend of a friend, who works for the broadcaster. “SBS were looking for a girl with a professional level of maths to co-host a TV show. I definitely wasn’t looking for it, it found me.”


In each episode, contestants and two of the show’s three co-hosts (which include Serna, Sydney Morning Herald cryptic crossword creator, David Astle, and television presenter, Richard Morecroft) race against the clock to solve word and number problems.


When the show is being filmed, Serna travels to Melbourne to shoot up to five episodes a day during the week, then back to Sydney for the weekend. 


Serna hopes the show will help people realise mathematicians aren’t just like the socially awkward characters on television shows like The Big Bang Theory.


Morecroft agrees Serna is helping to change these kinds of misconceptions. “Only last week we had a group of university students in the studio audience who had a sheet of her calculations and they were very keen to get Lily’s autograph.


“There are probably very few mathematicians who get to autograph their calculations. I think Lily is bringing a whole new feel to mathematics. ”


Serna says maths is in her genes. Each member of her immediate family has studied mathematics at university, and her grandfather and great-grandfather were both engineers.


Currently, the 24-year-old is completing an Honours degree in mathematics with applications in biology, at UTS. According to Serna, her research, which looks at the effects of floods on the Fitzroy River, will see her calculate the pesticides that eventually wash into the Great Barrier Reef Lagoon.


Serna says she made the decision to undertake further study last year when, at the height of the global financial crisis, job prospects in her then-chosen field of finance seemed gloomy.


“I was sitting in class one day when my lecturer explained there was a cross-disciplinary Honours project with the Plant Functional Biology and Climate Change Cluster (C3), looking at the Great Barrier Reef and the pesticides that go into it. That kind of tweaked my interest because I’ve always been interested in environmental issues.


“I really enjoy working at SBS on Letters and Numbers,” says Serna. However, when she finishes her Honours, “my loose plan would be to investigate doing a PhD in a similar sort of area with environmental sciences.”


Regardless of what the future holds, Serna believes her understanding of mathematics will always be valuable.


“I would say that if you have an interest in maths, look into a maths degree with something else. You can do maths and science, maths and finance, maths and computing and I’m doing maths with biology and you can just tag it onto anything and it makes you highly employable. ”



Health and Science

I Just Cannot get Enough of SBS's Television Series Letters & Numbers, I think lily is Gorgeous,I am a 36 Year old Wheelchair bound Spina Bifida Sufferer Paralysed from the Waiste Down, I myself are a bit of a Maths Quiz too, One Year in Primary School I Completed almost 2 or 3 Years of Mathematics in the Space of about 6 Months

This programme has changed me from being a number hater to a number striver. Lily is a great presenter and, thank goodness, speaks really clearly.
While I am sitting concentrating on the screenI know that daughter, grandson and friends across the country are all engaged in the same tasks. Thansk you for the fun and mental stimulation

I love the show even if I'm not very good at maths. Congratulations to Lily Serna, she is a natural, clever and attractive young lady!

I cannot believe that I heard David Astle, of all people, on tonight's show, say 'between you and I' when talking to Richard about romance.
Apart from that (and why doesn't David ever do his hair), I'm completely addicted to the show. Being a competent scrabble player I would love to become a contestant if the show were taped in Sydney. I can also sometimes do the maths!

I watch Letters and Numbers every day- even the repeats. Its a wonderful Show & I think Lily is fresh, beautiful and so clever- a great girl- I love her. Im a Grandmother!

I am completely addicted to Letters and NUmbers and I find Lily completely astounding. And , as my son added, not too hard to look at either ! Bet her boyfriend is a graduate in martial arts.

Love the show and love the concept!
But Jessica Tapp, Bachelor of Arts in Communication (Journalism). Lesson one-o-one always Always ALWAYS proof read your articles!

She plans to undertake a PhD in environmental science when she fisnishes her degree, but says that her maths will always be useful

We love the show and watch it everyday. Also love solving the word-mix and the conundrom - We even give the numbers a go. Lily is smart and adorable!

maybe you can use some of those letters and numbers and spell FINISHES correctly!

my wife and i enjoy watching the show every day. We wish Lily all the best. Get well soon. You are doing a great job. Thank you, David and Richard for a really good show. Great contestants too. Tony.

Hi Lily - I really wanted to show you my solution to to-night's number puzzle.
6 2 2 4 8 6 Target 222. 222=6 x37.
4x8 =32 +6 = 38. 2 divided by 2 = 1 38 - 1 = 37
37 x 6 = 222.
I have just had my 78th birthday, and really love the number puzzles on letters and Numbers. You and David and Richard are a great team. Best wishes, Dorothy Gore.

Have you WONDERFUL folk ANY IDEA WHATEVER of the SEVERE WITHDRAWAL SYMPTOMS we are SUFFERING in this household because Letters & Numbers is off the air until the end of July???
Weekends are insufferable - but A WHOLE MONTH is UTTER AGONY. Sincerely, Gill & Family.

Searching for L&N but found long time Brit show Countdown. Same format but for me, the wrong Chemistry.
The Aus team is far more personable and inclusive.
Love that Lilly Serna, I will eat anything she recommends on her new food show.
Can't wait til L&N returns.