Fall 2005

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From the Director

Ring Out the Old, Ring in the New

Douglas N. Arnold
Doug Arnold,
IMA Director

2005 has been quite a year for the IMA. From one point of view the big news has been our renewal for the period 2005-2010, which was announced by the National Science Foundation in July, the culmination of a review process which extended over two years and involved 20 reviewers, hundreds of pages of documentation, and two multi-day site visits. SIAM News reported on the renewal thus: "The Institute for Mathematics and its Applications at the University of Minnesota has been an attracting fixed point in the mathematics community since its inception in 1982. It will remain so for at least the next five years, courtesy of a whopping 77% increase in funding from the National Science Foundation." The SIAM News article, by Barry Cipra, went on to quote William Rundell, the director of NSF's Division of Mathematical Sciences: "The IMA has become a preeminent mathematics institute that serves as a model for other institutes worldwide. Its innovative interdisciplinary programs are an essential component of the NSF's portfolio." If actions speak louder than words, then the $19.5 million award, the NSF's largest single mathematics research grant ever, is surely a resounding vote of confidence.

2005 also saw the completion of our thematic program on Mathematics of Materials and Macromolecules. This program took a fresh view of materials science, a subject nurtured and shaped by IMA programs dating back to the early 1980s. The field has clearly progressed a great deal since our last annual program in the area, a decade ago. In contrast to earlier programs, this year much attention was directed toward explicit modeling at the atomic scale when required, and integrating those models in a multiscale approach. The program also incorporated some new program formats, such as two tutorial/workshops aimed specifically at connecting the outcomes of fundamental research to industrial applications, and the two weeks devoted to Experiments in Physical Biology, during which experimentalists at the frontiers of molecular biology met with mathematical modelers in a one-speaker-per-day format with ample time for presentation and for questions designed to break down the barriers dividing the groups.

In early 2005, Harvard president Lawrence Summers precipitated a furor with his ill-considered remarks on women in the sciences. At the same time, the IMA was taking a more thoughtful and constructive approach to under-represented groups in mathematics with a pair of career workshops, one aimed at women, the other at racial and ethnic minority groups even more under-represented in the mathematical sciences. The workshops were valued by younger women and minority mathematicians for the information they provided on the variety of career paths open to mathematicians and the many networking opportunities. The workshops also provided a forum to share the career experiences and celebrate the tremendous accomplishments of some leading senior mathematical scientists from these groups.

IMA's industrial connections were essential to the success of the career workshops. Industrial connections were also a key feature of a number of other activities this year, such as the tutorial/workshops mentioned above, the summer 2005 program on Wireless Communications, and the ninth edition of our Mathematical Modeling in Industry workshop for graduate students held this past August. And the summer ended with a superb two week New Directions short course on quantum computation (industrial math of the future?), taught by Peter Shor and Alexei Kitaev.

The current annual program is entitled simply "Imaging". The hallmark of IMA thematic programs is the critical mass effect: the things that happen when you bring together a large group of researchers interested in one broad field, but coming from a wide variety of backgrounds and disciplines, in an environment dedicated to communication, collaboration, and research. The critical mass effect has certainly been in evidence during the fall 2005 semester: on any given day at the IMA there were close to 50 people in residence, counting only the visitors spending a month or more at the IMA. The result is an electrifying level of activity. There are always people around to bounce ideas off of; if you are stuck on a technical point or need to know how a technique is really used in an application, there are people you can ask; if a visitor sends out an email announcing an informal seminar for the next day, the seminar room will be overflowing.

It has been an awesome year at the IMA, and I feel a tremendous debt of gratitude to the many people and institutions who have made it possible. The generous support of the National Science Foundation, the University of Minnesota, and our Participating Institutions and Corporations are the foundation upon which the IMA is built. Deputy Director Arnd Scheel and Associate Director Debra Lewis have been superb partners in managing the IMA and the extraordinary IMA staff have made exceptional efforts to keep it running smoothly. But my greatest thanks go to the participants, the mathematicians and scientists who give our programs their substance and whose resulting work will be the ultimate fruits of our efforts.

So thank you all for a great 2005—and let's meet again at the IMA in 2006 and beyond.