A Propitious Time for Applied Mathematics

October 21, 2006

The student chapter at the University of Florida (the SIAM Gators, founded in 2002) has been a steady source of creative ideas (one of which is well visualized here). Chapter members Hongchao Zhang (recipient of a 2006 Student Paper Prize) and Juan Liu (the current chapter president) are shown here at the SIAM Annual Meeting in Boston with UF faculty member William Hager. Photographs by Susan Whitehouse.

Talk of the Society
James Crowley

Applied mathematics seems to be thriving these days. On a global scale, the International Congress of Mathematicians has devoted greater attention to application areas in recent years, and the trend was especially visible at this year's congress in Madrid. John Ball, who has been president of the International Mathematical Union for the last four years (as Sir John Ball since earlier this year), is an active participant in SIAM activities. We can look forward to SIAM president Marty Golubitsky's report on the ICM in an upcoming issue of SIAM News.

In the U.S., government funding for applied mathematics and computational science seems to be strong. The latest round of awards in the Department of Energy's SciDAC (Scientific Discovery through Advanced Computing) program provide one example (see sidebar). Another recent example is the second joint solicitation from the Division of Mathematical Sciences at NSF and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences at NIH for proposals in mathematical biology (see http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2006/nsf06607/nsf06607.htm).

Within SIAM, we have been seeing record attendance at conferences, along with tremendous growth in many SIAM activities. The 2006 SIAM Annual Meeting in Boston, with concurrent meetings of the activity groups in financial mathematics and in PDEs, drew a record number of participants. Two weeks later, with about 500 attendees, the joint meeting of the SIAM Activity Group on the Life Sciences and the Society for Mathematical Biology, held in Raleigh, North Carolina, also greatly exceeded expectations.

Any healthy society has a strong student presence, and I'm happy to report that our student chapters have grown dramatically in recent years---both in numbers (from 12 in 2000 to 46 today) and in levels of innovative activity; see sidebar.

Regional sections of SIAM are proliferating as well. In July the Board of Trustees approved applications from groups in Bulgaria and Argentina, who are now free to appoint temporary officers and draw up rules of procedure. These new sections complement the SIAM sections already in existence: in the UK and Ireland, East Asia, and Mexico, as well as regionally throughout the U.S.

All these very positive developments notwithstanding, various SIAM committees and governing bodies have concerns about diversity---in terms of technical areas, gender, and ethnicity. What can SIAM do to ensure that the breadth of our discipline and membership is represented in our activities? SIAM has a strong commitment to diversity as understood in all these senses; along with the annual Diversity Day (see coverage of this year's event in this issue of SIAM News), we support the Association for Women in Mathematics in various ways (including the AWMSIAM Kovalevsky Lecture). Still, Marty Golubitsky, who as SIAM president is responsible for most of our appointments, and Pam Cook, whose duties as SIAM secretary include primary oversight of committees, are especially attentive to the need to cover all corners of SIAM.

Efforts under way to broaden representation include expansion of the committee that oversees committee appointments (it has a creative name: the Committee on Committees and Appointments). Under new rules created for that committee (you can read them at http://www.siam.org/about/committees.php), it will have more members and, more important, a mandate to make all SIAM committees more representative of the entire membership and their interests.

Related changes include the recent addition of at-large representatives to the committees that choose the von Neumann lecturer and the I.E. Block Community Lecturer. A similar proposal concerns expansion of the Nominating Committee, which chooses candidates to run for elected office---the officers and members of the Board of Trustees and Council. Each of these steps is intended to ensure that the full spectrum of SIAM interests is represented when important decisions are made.

From time to time, I hear from individuals who feel that they are excluded from SIAM activities, or that their areas of interest are not properly represented in our programs. The SIAM leadership is working to address such concerns and welcomes ideas from the community.

Participation in activity groups has been a primary pathway to leadership positions in SIAM. Activity groups run conferences, issue newsletters or maintain Web sites or other means of communication, and serve as focal points for SIAM activities in their areas. They also organize sessions at the SIAM Annual Meeting and meetings of other organizations.

What if there is no activity group in your research area? SIAM encourages members to propose new activity groups in areas they consider insufficiently covered. The steps for doing so can be found at http://www.siam.org/activity/start.php. Similarly, an individual can propose that SIAM establish a section to better serve the interests of members in a given geographic region.

This is not to imply that SIAM has a simple answer for every concern. It is meant rather to remind members of the established avenues for participation; the only requirements are willingness and ability to make the effort. I would like to emphasize that the SIAM leadership is very willing to listen to ideas and to make every effort to respond to members' concerns.

I sometimes hear from SIAM members who have questions or concerns about SIAM journals: Some want to serve on the editorial boards of journals in their fields; others wish to see their areas better represented in SIAM journals.
SIAM has a vice president for publications, currently Tim Kelley. The vice president for publications reports to the SIAM president and the SIAM Council, and is responsible for the editorial structure of SIAM journals and books. With respect to journals, the vice president for publications oversees the editors-in-chief and approves new appointments to the editorial boards. SIAM has a Committee on Publications, with a new subcommittee on journals. The subcommittee reviews the editorial policies of existing journals, as well as proposals for new ones. While consideration of new journals is necessarily a slow, deliberative process, there are clear channels by which interested individuals can express concerns and suggest changes. Concerns about coverage of areas of applied mathematics, computational science, or computer science in SIAM publications should be addressed to the vice president for publications (tim_kelley@ncsu.edu).

In summary: SIAM is not a "closed shop"; there are avenues that individuals can pursue to get more involved or to suggest changes. It is through the actions of SIAM members that our society---indeed, our discipline---moves forward.

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