Science + Technology

UCLA Dedicates $12.5 Million Mathematics Institute To Strengthen Ties Between Math And Other Sciences


UCLA today inaugurated its new Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics (IPAM), which was awarded $12.5 million for five years from the National Science Foundation to strengthen the ties between mathematics and the other sciences. UCLA has won the only new mathematics research institute in the United States awarded by the NSF in its recent national competition.

"Mathematics can make tremendous contributions to the other sciences," said Tony Chan, director of IPAM and former chair of the department of mathematics at UCLA. "Mathematics is the language of science, and one of IPAM's goals is to break down barriers between mathematicians and other scientists."

Chan said that historically, mathematicians have always worked closely with other scientists; he hopes this interaction will be further strengthened in the 21st century.

"In the 20th century, mathematics became more inward-looking, and the distinction between pure and applied mathematics became much more pronounced," Chan said. "I believe it is better to view pure and applied mathematics as a continuum rather than as two competing and hostile camps."

IPAM will bring internationally renowned mathematicians and other scientists to UCLA, typically for three- or four-month-long programs. During these programs, IPAM will also host conferences, seminars, tutorials and workshops, and will award fellowships.

"IPAM will bring the full range of mathematical techniques to bear on the great scientific challenges of our time," said Eitan Tadmor, a UCLA professor of mathematics and co-director of the institute with UCLA professor Mark Green. "Mathematics can enrich other scientific disciplines, and vice versa.

"More than before, there is a sense of readiness among mathematicians to interact with the world around them, in addition to continuing the pursuit of math for internal motivations

such as revealing its inherent beauty and understanding its coherent symmetries," Tadmor said.

Mathematics can enrich not only physics and the other physical sciences, but also medicine and the biomedical sciences and engineering. It can also play a role in such practical matters as how to speed the flow of traffic on the Internet or sharpen the transmission of digitized images, how to better understand and possibly predict patterns in the stock market, how to gain insights into human behavior, and even how to enrich the entertainment world through contributions to digital technology, Tadmor said.

"Through mathematical modeling, numerical experiments, analytical studies and other mathematical techniques, mathematics can make enormous contributions to many fields," said Tadmor, who specializes in numerical analysis and nonlinear differential equations.

The institute will offer programs on several major scientific topics each year, as well as shorter programs. IPAM will address "Functional Genomics" from Sept. 18 through Dec. 15, and "Financial Mathematics" in January 2001. Among other IPAM programs is one on "Geometrically Based Motions," with a series of workshops ranging from material interfaces in April 2001 to one on imaging in medicine and the neurosciences in May 2001.

What does math have to do with human genes, the world of finance and geometric motions?

"Science now has a huge body of genetic information, and researchers need mathematical methods — algorithms to search the data, clustering methods and computer models, among others — to interpret it," Green said. "The convergence of mathematics and the life sciences, which was not foreseen a generation ago, is a tremendous opportunity."

"Finance is very mathematical — derivatives, risk management, portfolio management, stock options, are modeled mathematically, and consequently mathematicians are having a real impact on how those businesses are evolving," Green said.

"Motion driven by the geometry of interfaces is ubiquitous in many areas of science — from growing crystals for manufacturing semiconductors to tracking tumors in biomedical images," Tadmor said.

IPAM will facilitate collaborative research across traditional academic fields and will help train a new generation of interdisciplinary mathematicians and scientists, Chan said.



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