SIAM Student Chapters Beyond the USA: The Oxford Experience

November 9, 2008

Plenary speaker Michael Berry concluded the very successful first event of the Oxford SIAM Student Chapter with a talk titled “Polarization Fingerprints in the Clear Blue Sky.”

David Hewett, David Knezevic, and Ricardo Pachón

January 2008 marked the birth of a new member in the burgeoning list of SIAM Student Chapters with the formation of a chapter at the University of Oxford. Although the number of student chapters has grown steadily in recent years---
from just 13 chapters in 2003 to 62 in 2008---the Oxford chapter is the first in the UK, and one of just five outside the USA (the other four being in Spain, Italy, Turkey, and Germany).

The continuing worldwide success of the chapter model is based on the fact that, as well as connecting students with the wide variety of resources offered by SIAM, it provides an excellent opportunity for students with similar interests in applied mathematics to interact with each other and with the research community at the host institution. We found this model particularly attractive because of Oxford's unique collegiate system, under which graduate and undergraduate students are scattered among the university's numerous colleges.

With the assistance of our faculty adviser, Mason Porter of the Oxford Centre for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, we soon had the chapter established and found strong interest from students across a number of the university's departments.

To kick-start the newly formed student chapter, a one-day conference was held in Oxford on April 25, 2008, with sponsorship from SIAM, OCIAM, the Oxford Numerical Analysis Group, and the oilfield service provider Schlumberger. The conference program included talks by four young researchers: PhD student Rebecca Shipley and postdocs Christoph Ortner and Ian Griffiths from the University of Oxford, and postdoc Margaret Beck from the University of Surrey. Topics included non-conforming finite element methods, fluid and drug transport in vascular tumours, production of glass tubing of different cross-sectional shapes, and a bifurcation study for the formation of localised patterns.

In an industry talk after lunch, Chris Farmer of Schlumberger discussed the role that mathematics has to play in the hydrocarbon industry. Sir Michael Berry, a professor at the University of Bristol, concluded the conference with a plenary lecture titled "Polarization Fingerprints in the Clear Blue Sky," in which he discussed the pattern of the polarization of light across the sky. In addition to eloquently describing the historical development of the problem, quoting results by such renowned scientists as Babinet and Lord Rayleigh, Berry showed how a modern mathematical approach can be used to predict properties of the polarization field with impressive accuracy.

With forty participants, the conference was certainly a successful first event for the Oxford SIAM Student Chapter. Plans are currently afoot for a bigger and better calendar of activities for the next academic year, including a workshop in November 2008 focusing on the numerical solution of PDEs arising in industrial and applied mathematics, and another student conference in February 2009. SIAM student chapters are currently widespread in the U.S., but we would like to encourage more students to form chapters in Europe and elsewhere; in our experience, aside from the minor inconvenience of converting the funds provided by SIAM from U.S. dollars to local currency (British pounds in our case), it is easy to create a SIAM chapter regardless of where you are!

The officers of the Oxford SIAM Student Chapter at the time of the conference were David Hewett (president), who is studying urban acoustics at OCIAM; David Knezevic (vice president), who recently completed a PhD in numerical methods for simulating non-Newtonian fluids in the NA Group; and Ricardo Pachón (treasurer/secretary), who is studying polynomial and rational approximation in the chebfun system in the NA Group. More information about the Oxford chapter can be found at; readers can find a complete list of SIAM student chapters at

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