From the Director
The IMA Annual Thematic Program
The IMA achieves its mission of fostering interdisciplinary
mathematical research through a wide variety of programmatic
mechanisms: annual thematic programs, summer programs, Hot Topics
workshops, and so forth. The largest undertaking is certainly the
annual program, which each year runs from September through June and is
dedicated to a broad research area. In this column, I will describe
some of what goes into an annual program, and how the themes are
chosen. I hope that some readers will consider submitting their ideas
for future programs.
People and programs. The most important features of an
annual program are (1) the community of mathematicians and scientists
assembled at the IMA and (2) the program of workshops, tutorials, short
courses, etc. The community of visitors is diverse, but bound by a
common interest in the theme topic of the program. It includes a half
a dozen postdocs who are hired in conjunction with the program and long
term visitors, some of whom join the IMA for the duration of the
annual program, while others stay for perhaps a quarter or a month.
This core group of visitors is supplemented by short term visitors who
come, e.g., for a workshop and stay an additional week
before or after, and by faculty from the University of Minnesota and
the Twin Cities area. The resident community is typically comparable in size
to an average math department, with between 35 and 50 members, but has some
unique characteristics: though it is scientifically diverse, everyone
shares a common interest in the annual theme, and most members are
fully focused on research, without teaching or service responsibilities,
while they are at the IMA. As a result, there is a wealth of seminars
and the daily coffee hour bustles with discussion.
There is always a critical mass at the IMA.
The formal program of an annual year consists of a series of high intensity
events, primarily workshops and tutorials, when the number of visitors
doubles or triples, and there are typically several talks a day. In
recent years, the annual program has kicked off with a week-long tutorial in
September introducing participants to some aspects of the
cutting edge of research in the thematic field. Though the new IMA
postdocs are the obvious target audience for these tutorials,
they have proven very popular with a wide range of scientists. The series
of lectures by top experts in the area, starting with the basics but paced for
active mathematicians and scientists, enable participants from a broad range of backgrounds
outside the thematic area to get to the cutting edge of the research
Last month, the audience at the tutorial lectures on
Mathematics of Materials averaged about 65.
The audiences for the workshops that follow
typically include a mix of specialists in the workshop topics
and related areas, long-term
visitors, IMA postdocs, and local scientists from academia and industry.
We place strong emphasis on discussion and interaction at the
IMA, and structure the workshops accordingly, with a relatively light
schedule of talks, lots of scheduled discussion periods, ``Second
Chances'' sessions where the whole audience revisits the themes that
have come up in the workshop, poster sessions, and just plain
free time for people to talk.
The synergy between the annual thematic program and the IMA postdoc
program is surely one of the great strengths of the IMA. During the
program year an IMA postdoc has a chance to intereact with a tremendous
variety of scientists relevant to his or her research area: some
junior and some senior, some from mathematics and some from an area of
application, some with a similar background and some coming at the
same questions from a very different perspective. Because many
are long- or medium-term visitors, and because the IMA environment
and program are designed to facilitate communication, there are ample
opportunities to interact and collaborate.
The choice of topic for an IMA thematic program is crucial to the
effectiveness of the Institute. The success of the IMA hinges on its
ability to choose program areas which hold promise for major impact on
the mathematical sciences and on applications areas, and to choose
organizers who will be best be able to realize this promise. The
ultimate responsibility for these choices lies with the IMA Board of
Governors, and is, in fact, among their most important
responsibilities. The Board is informed by input from many sources,
including our Participating Institutions Council, our Industrial
Advisory Committee, and, most important, the interested scientific
community. A program to begin in September of year n begins as
a preproposal discussed at the Board of governors meeting in year
n-4. A successful preproposal is developed into a complete
proposal over the following year, and the program choice is announced
in the fall three years before the start of the program.
Details about what is expected in a preproposal can be
found on our Program
Solicitation webpage, linked from the home page.