Industrial Mathematics – Current Practices

Dr Katerina Kaouri, MI-NET Management Committee Member, Expert Scientist/Research Fellow, Department of Electrical Engineering, Computer Engineering 2006-01-01 17.51.33and Informatics, Cyprus University of Technology

The workshop “Current Practice in Industrial Mathematics” was organized by MI-NET, with the lead of Dr. Hilary Ockendon, on the 27th of October 2015, at the University of Bath. The aim was the creation of an open forum in which various methodologies for mathematicians working with industry in different countries would be presented and discussed, and enabling a fruitful discussion that would lead to the exchange of best practices, and ultimately to a better connection of academia and industry across the EU.

After opening remarks by Dr Hilary Ockendon (University of Oxford), in Part I “Student Centered Activities” Prof. Dietmar Hoemberg from the Weierstrass Institute for Applied Analysis and Stochastics, in Germany, outlined three EU funding mechanisms for PhD students and gave more details about the European Industrial Doctorates (EID) scheme, one of the Marie Curie Actions.

EIDs are joint doctoral training projects between an academic institution and a company, which are established in two different EU Member States or associated countries of the EU. Prof. Hoemberg presented the successful example of MIMESIS, an EID network in which he was involved and which funded 8 PhD students in Maths and in Materials (budget: 2.1 Million Euros). He strongly recommended the EIDs as a very good method for academics to build bridges and long-term collaborations with industry and for gaining easy access to the industry’s technical expertise.

Subsequently, Kate Powers, a PhD student, and Prof. Chris Budd OBE from the University of Bath outlined various successful methodologies that the university has developed in order to collaborate with industry.  Kate Powers spoke very positively about her two placements with industry (11 weeks) when she was a MMath student under the guidance of Prof. Budd. She emphasized that the experience enabled her to see what doing a PhD entails, network and get acquainted with a variety of applications of mathematics in industry. Prof. Budd and Kate Powers described in detail another successful academia-industry tool devised by the UoBath, the Integrative Think Tanks (ITTs). ITTs are weeklong workshops where about 60 academics, students and industrialists work together. They act as forums that help researchers better understand the challenges facing industry and formulate them into mathematical problems that can be addressed through PhD projects or industrial placements. They attract companies from a wide range of fields (telecoms, aerospace, power generation, mining, oil), including household names such as Unilever, London Transport, EDF Energy, etc. The ITTs also involve the newly-founded Bath Institute for Mathematical Innovation (IMI), who provide consultancy services to industry. (MI-NET’s Chair, Dr Joanna Jordan is the Manager of IMI).

Prof. Budd also mentioned three other mechanisms that enable students to work with industry: i) CASE Studentships for PhD students, a UK-wide tool (ii) Internships, one-year undergraduate student placements  as part of the UoBath Mathematics degree (iii) MSc projects, as part of the MSc in Modern Applied Mathematics at the UoBath – either 3 or 6 months duration.

Continuing, in Part II “National Networks”, Prof. Peregrina Quintela Estevez President of the Spanish Network for Mathematics and Industry presented the math-in network. The math-in network consists of more than 40 research groups with more than 440 researchers and technical staff based across Spain. Prof. Estevez relayed that the diversity of locations and thematic areas offered by the network has been very appreciated by the industrial clients. Their way of working include developing and maintaining  close relationships with the companies.

They have designed and constantly update a supply map, a depository of case studies in 23 industrial sectors, as those are defined by the EU. A sophisticated search engine allows easy identification of the required expertise. Also, math-in identified industrial needs in Spain by running a survey with 8000 companies in the country, active across all industrial sectors. They are also operating a technology transfer office of the math-in network at the University of Santiago de Compostela. The technology transfer office acts as a one-stop-shop for companies, that is the company brings a problem, the office identifies which research group can solve it and puts the researchers and the company in touch. The contracts are between the academic institution and the client company and math-in oversees the quality control of the process.

Dr Robert Leese, Director of the Smith Institute for Industrial Mathematics and Systems Engineering, in the UK presented the activities of the Smith Institute. Smith Institute is an independent company, working in close contact with universities across the UK. They currently employ 20 people, most of them mathematical scientists with a PhD that do highly technical work for companies, bring in new business, and facilitate collaborations. Dr Leese gave a few examples of industrial mathematics actions that the Smith Institute has been actively involved:

a) Facilitating the organization of the UK Study Groups with Industry. Initiated at the University of Oxford in 1968, Study Groups with Industry provide a forum for industrial scientists to work alongside academic mathematicians on problems of direct industrial relevance. They are an internationally recognized method of technology and knowledge transfer between academic mathematicians and industry, usually lasting one week. Note: Study Groups are also one of the key activities funded by MI-NET.

Workshop structure:

  • The Study Group attracts mathematicians from a wide range of backgrounds to work on the selected industrial problems.
  • A training course runs concurrently with the workshop providing wider background material on new mathematical research topics related to the industrial problems.
  • On the first day the industrial representatives outline their project and their objectives.
  • The next two or three of days are devoted to brainstorming, modelling and solving the problems closely guided by the industrial representative.
  • Participants are free to apply their expertise to any of the projects.
  • On the last day (Friday) the progress and recommended routes forward are presented. Reports on the problem deliberations are produced after the meeting. (Some reports from previous study groups are available here)

b) Knowledge Transfer Papers in collaboration with the London Mathematical Society. The reports are being produced as an occasional series, each one addressing an area where mathematicsand computing have come together to provide significant new capability that is on the cusp of mainstream industrial uptake. They are written by senior researchers in each chosen area, for a mixed audience in business and government.

c) Case Studies/success stories in industrial mathematics, across 9 industrial sectors.

Prof. Edwige Godlewski, from AMIES, the French Agency for Maths-Industry collaboration outlined how agency operates in France. The Agency has been founded in 2011, and they connect with industry through exploratory projects, one-week workshops with industry, student internships and showcasing success stories. They also give out a Math-Enterprise PhD award and they are running a popular website with job advertisements.

Prof. Poul Hjorth, who has been organizing with colleagues the Danish Study Group for many years, has said that at the Technical University of Denmark they have compiled “rapid response teams” of academics that tackle industrial problems quickly. Incentives given to academic mathematicians for convincing them to get involved in industrial activities include conference funding and a clear path for a peer-reviewed publication.

Dr Hanifeh Khayyeri mentioned that at the Lund University, in Sweden a student can undertake an MSc thesis in collaboration with a company for six months. The student approaches the company himself/herself and an academic supervises the project.

Dr William Lee mentioned that at the University of Limerick, in Ireland, they found out that companies are more willing to invest a large amount of money in universities when the collaboration starts with a consultation period in which the company reaps the benefits of some initial, quick results without paying much money.

Other MI-NET participants offered also information on methods of interaction of academia and industry in other countries.

Discussion ensued among the participants with the aim to create a roadmap on how to disseminate best practices via MI-NET across the EU and the world.


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