Maths helping the numbers add up for industry

Originally published by COST

COST is helping to strengthen the ties between mathematics and industry across Europe. The Mathematics for Industry Network – MI-NET – has been putting mathematicians and industrialists together since 2015, improving best practice thanks to touch points between the two groups throughout COST’s member states.

Academics working in mathematics, from undergraduates to professors, are applying their knowledge to help solve real-world issues affecting industry. Problem-solving workshops provide solutions, while training and secondments are ensuring that younger researchers are reaping the benefits of these ever-improving ties.

MI-NET supports European Study Groups, week-long workshops where practical answers are found for industrial problems using mathematics via brainstorming sessions. Between 60 and 80 mathematicians will look at a problem that, on first sight, has nothing to do with maths. Questions tackled have included, “How do you optimise shoe box size?”and “How can you make a better cup of coffee?” , with answers and strategies devised using the academics’ expertise in mathematics. The Action’s funding is expanding the maths-industry exchange across the continent, as the Chair of MI-NET, Dr Joanna Jordan of the University of Bath’s Institute for Mathematical Innovation, explains.

I was thrilled that MI-NET could enable the first Study Groups ever to be held in Italy and Cyprus ,” she says.  “The first Israeli Modelling Week for postgraduate students took place in July of 2017, and Slovenia hosts its first Study Group in the following September. It will look at an exciting and varied array of real-world problems, from fraud detection in subsidised school meals, to predicting the quantity of meat sold by food manufacturers.”

“This widening participation and the increase in the number of countries across Europe actively involved in industrial mathematics has been the biggest benefit of MI-NET,” Dr Jordan adds.  “I’m delighted that 31 countries are members of MI-NET, which includes 15 of COST’s Inclusiveness Target Countries (ITCs).”

MI-NET is enabling maths to address problems of real social and economic value, and is supporting the development of the next generation of industrial mathematicians. Dr Jordan took part in Study Groups during her PhD and declares: “I found them hugely inspirational. I’m delighted that through MI-NET we can offer this opportunity to more students across Europe.”

MI-NET has worked with a variety of high-calibre industrial partners, including IBM Research and toy manufacturer Engino. Dr Jordan says that they have been “pleasantly surprised” that their issues can be solved by joining forces with mathematicians, but MI-NET is eyeing new challenges with areas such as agriculture and parts of social science yet to use maths as a problem solver.

“We want industrialists to think of mathematicians as their first port of call when tackling new challenges,” she adds. “It’s also important that the Short Term Scientific Missions enable early career investigators to research at an institution or company during a vital phase of their careers.”

MI-NET holds calls for new activities every quarter. It aims to have hosted one event in each of its 31 member countries by the time MI-NET funding ends in 2019. Also in the pipeline is a Study Group handbook, a step-by-step guide to running workshops that will see MI-NET leaving a legacy.

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