Leading math and science researchers come to WLU

This week, Wilfrid Laurier University has seen an influx of great minds on campus. Over 400 researchers in the broad fields of science and mathematics came to Laurier on Monday for the 2011 Applied Mathematics, Modeling and Computational Science (AMMCS), which is also a satellite meeting of the International Congress for Industrial and Applied Mathematics.

A wide scope of topics are being discussed at the conference, but according to one of the conference’s organizers, Roderick Melnik, there is an area in which they find common ground.

“Many of the [researchers] in one way or another are using some kind of quantitative methodologies,” said Melnik, a professor of mathematics at WLU and Canada Research Chair in Mathematical Modeling. “That could be physics, chemistry, biology, finance, business, or economics, but to have a conference like this within one specific department or even one specific faculty, it’s pretty difficult for a university of this size. So we wanted to bring people from all these disciplines here and get everything together.”

According to Melnik, the idea to host such a conference at Laurier initially came about in 2009 as a means of bridging different research fields and top minds to Waterloo Region. From there, the organizing team of Melnik, Ilias Kotsireas, Brian West, Zilin Wang, Cristina Stoica and Francine Vinette, with the support of the Fields Institute, Mprime, Maplesoft, Sharcnet went about bringing in top researchers.

And unlike other academic conferences, the criteria, though strict, wasn’t narrow in focus.

“There’s so many different areas involved in mathematics. So we basically put out a call saying ‘if you work in an area in which computation and modeling and math in general is important, then let’s bring some speakers and get them into one place,'” said West, an assistant professor of physics and computer science at Laurier.

“Most of these people would never see each other because they’re working in different fields that don’t normally cross paths. We wanted to get people together to present their work and maybe see that someone working a completely different field is tackling similar mathematical problems.”

The response came from far and wide as the conference attracted researchers from 43 countries and six continents, from both the academic and industry sectors.

One glance at the speakers’ list and it’s clear these are some of the top minds in the math and science fields. Researchers from world-renowned academic institutions like Stanford University, Brown University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the University of California at Berkeley, just to name a few, have joined mathematicians and scientists from the private sector that include thinkers from NASA.

Despite the big names and institutions, Melnik is hesitant to highlight one area of research more than another.

“I wouldn’t single out a single person or topic because people came from such a wide range of different areas,” he said. “It’s important to see this multi-disciplinary approach to many problems in both science and society.”

In addition to speakers and panels from top researchers, the conference is also encouraging students to get involved through contests for the best student-run presentations and posters.

The conference concludes Friday.