Fall Update for SIAM

November 16, 2008

In Rome in mid-September for the 9th SIMAI Congress, Mario Primicerio (right), outgoing president of SIMAI (Societá Italiana di Matematica Applicata e Industriale), and Doug Arnold, SIAM president-elect, sealed a reciprocity agreement between the two societies with a handshake. Under the agreement, members of each society have the opportunity to join the other at reduced rates.

Talk of the Society
James Crowley

I want to draw your attention to several miscellaneous items this month, beginning with a few items from the July meetings of the Council and Board of Trustees. One major action to emerge from those meetings is the creation of a new position---the SIAM Vice President for Science Policy. This decision elevates the position of chair of the Committee on Science Policy to the vice-president level, which means that the new officer has a seat on the SIAM Council.

And the new officer has been selected: SIAM president Cleve Moler, on the advice of the selection committee, has named Reinhard Laubenbacher of the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute and the Department of Mathematics at Virginia Tech SIAM's first vice president for science policy. On January 1, 2009, when his term begins, Laubenbacher will succeed Marty Golubitsky as chair of the Committee on Science Policy. Laubenbacher has expressed an interest in getting more of the SIAM membership involved in science policy activities.
Both the Council and the Board approved the creation of an activity group in materials science. If you were under the impression that the group already existed, it's probably because of the periodic conferences on materials science we run (the fifth SIAM Conference on Mathematical Aspects of Materials Science was held earlier this year in Philadelphia). The new activity group, with Bob Kohn as the initial chair, will take over the planning for that conference. The other officers are Irene Fonseca (vice chair), Michael Ortiz (secretary), and Kaushik Bhattacharya (program director).

SIAM members can join the new SIAG by contacting SIAM membership manager Susan Whitehouse (whitehouse@siam.org). The appointed officers will hold their positions through the next conference, after which elections for officers will be held.

Also approved by both the Council and the Board is a new SIAM journal on computational financial mathematics. René Carmona and Ronnie Sircar are co-editors-in-chief. The journal began to accept new submissions on October 30; see http://www.siam.org/journals/sifma.php.

The SIAM Council set in motion a review of several SIAM prizes, and voted to establish two new prizes proposed by the SIAM Activity Group on the Geosciences. Among the prizes to be reviewed, for quite different reasons, are the Student Paper Prize and the Pólya Prize.

In the case of the former, some believe that increasing numbers of papers by students in peer-reviewed journals---far more than twenty years ago, when the prize was created---have rendered the Student Paper Prize in its current form a bit dated. To determine whether changes in the prize rules are needed, the SIAM Major Awards Committee, which oversees all SIAM prizes, will carry out the review.

As to the Pólya Prize, the committee will consider the scope of the prize, along with any changes that might affect the way it is awarded (every other year, for achievements alternately in combinatorics and in any of the many other areas in which George Pólya was interested). Growth in the underlying prize fund, for example, and developments since 1990 in the fields covered could combine to make changes in the prize specifications advisable.

Finally, the Council and Board approved reciprocity with SIMAI, SIAM's counterpart in Italy, and encouraged the formation of similar agreements with like-minded organizations around the globe. SIAM president-elect Doug Arnold is particularly interested in strengthening and forging such ties.


Readers may have noticed that articles by professional writers like Phil Davis, Barry Cipra, and Jim Case appear in SIAM News alongside articles contributed by authors from the community. Many of the occasional authors have written for special issues on particular themes, arising from Math Awareness Month (Mathematics and the Brain) or a conference (ICIAM '07).

We think the mix is good and encourage members of the community to submit ideas or draft articles for publication---you don't need to wait for a special issue. The criteria for a good article are easier to state than to abide by: Articles should be of general interest to a wide swath of the SIAM community. Unlike a typical journal article, an article for SIAM News is intended to bring a general audience, including students, up to date on research advances, innovative applications and uses of mathematics and computing, and new programs. (Conferences and workshops are especially tricky; many respectful, exhaustive reports on events that no doubt were stimulating to all in attendance are of interest only to that group. But we are always ready to consider a good counterexample!) A good length for a SIAM News article is about 1200–1500 words. Illustrations that help get the point across are greatly appreciated. Comments, suggestions for articles, and anything else should be sent to Gail Corbett (corbett@siam.org) or to me (jcrowley@siam.org).

We recognize that writing for an audience beyond the circle of researchers in one's own area requires special talent and some practice. To encourage students to acquire this necessary but elusive skill, SIAM sponsors a AAAS Mass Media Fellow each summer. Under the program, the AAAS places fellows (graduate students in mathematics, science, or engineering) at any of a nation-wide group of participating newspapers, magazines, and radio and television stations. Typically, SIAM-sponsored fellows have been interested in print journalism and have spent the ten-week summer fellowship period working at newspapers, where they investigate assigned topics and write articles for publication.
Interested students can find details and application materials at http://www.aaas.org/programs/education/MassMedia/.


You probably don't immediately think of SIAM in connection with activities at the K–12 level. Our focus as a professional society tends to be on furthering research in our discipline, on application of results in science and industry, and on fostering student activities at the graduate level. Like any professional society, however, we have a keen interest in keeping our discipline healthy, and this requires a stream of talented individuals entering the field. One pre-college activity that SIAM has undertaken is management of a mathematical modeling contest for high school students, sponsored by the Moody's Foundation.

Called the Moody's Mega Math Challenge, the contest focuses on modeling and analysis of real-world problems. Ben Fusaro and Lee Seitelman have coordinated problem creation and judging since the first contest.

The contest introduces junior and senior high school students to applied mathematics by giving them opportunities, working in three- to five-person teams, to tackle real-world problems under time and resource constraints akin to those faced by industrial applied mathematicians. In a single 14-hour session, a participating team downloads the contest problem from the SIAM Web site, develops a mathematical model for its solution, and presents the group's findings in a paper written to be accessible to nontechnical readers. In 2009, the teams submitting the best solutions will share $80,000 in college scholarship prizes. The judges, who follow a rigorous judging process, are professional mathematicians (disclosure: I have judged the contest every year). For the final round of judging, the top six teams travel to Moody's Corporation headquarters in New York City to present their solutions to a panel of judges (again, I have been a member of that panel each year).

The contest has evolved since it was first held in 2006; it began locally (for Moody's), in New York City, and has expanded into a larger geographic area each year. For 2009, the contest area includes all of the New England and Mid-Atlantic states, from Maine to Washington, DC. Continued expansion is planned through 2016, at which time the contest is to be national.

The 2006 contest problem asked the students to develop strategies that would ensure the solvency of the Social Security system for 75 years. In 2007, the students were to create an investment plan, given stock performance data for 16 high-tech companies. This year's teams were to evaluate the efficiency of a corn-to-ethanol strategy for achieving energy independence, and the concomitant effect on global food prices.

Lee Seitelman and Ben Fusaro welcome input from the SIAM community for modeling problems for future contests. (Unfortunately, there is not a surfeit of realistic modeling problems that can be studied, "solved," and documented in 14 hours by high school students, using only Internet resources and reference materials!) Suggested problems should be sent to Seitelman
(lseitelman@aol.com) or Michelle Montgomery (montgomery@siam.org). A $500
honorarium will be awarded to the author of any problem chosen for the contest.

The 2009 contest is scheduled for March 7 and 8; see http://m3challenge.siam.org/.

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