Five Berlin Institutions Join Forces to Create Major New Mathematics Research Center

January 27, 2003

With a proposal for a research center to be called "Mathematics for Key Technologies: Modelling, Simulation, and Optimization of Real-World Processes," a five-institution consortium in Berlin defeated 14 competitors for support (at 5 million Euros a year) from the German government. Martin Grötschel, shown here giving an invited address at SIAM's 50th Anniversary Meeting, is the new center's chair.

Volker Mehrmann

A new research center--Mathematics for Key Technologies: Modelling, Simulation, and Optimization of Real-World Processes--has been established in Berlin. The center is funded by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (the German counterpart of the U.S. National Science Foundation) at 5 million Euros per year. It is operated by three Berlin universities--Free University (FU), Humboldt University (HU), and Technical University (TU; the lead institution)--together with two research institutes, also in Berlin--Konrad-Zuse-Zentrum für Infor-mationstechnik (ZIB) and Weierstrass Institute for Applied Analysis and Stochastics (WIAS). Together, these five institutions are co-financing the center at 3 million Euros per year.

The center's grand opening, held at Technical University of Berlin, November 20-22, 2002, took the form of a three-day workshop. For the first day the organizers had prepared a sensational Mathematics Show, which drew more than a thousand people. The show featured short presentations of mathematics in action, in rapid succession, including film clips and 3D presentations of the treatment of virtual patients and simulations of molecules. The show and the press conference associated with the opening drew enthusiastic coverage by the major German newspapers, as well as by television and radio stations.

Genesis of the Center
In August 2000 the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft introduced a new program with the goal of establishing several centers of excellence in research. The first call for proposals was open to all fields of research and, despite the constraint of a two-month deadline, drew more than eighty proposals. Grants were awarded in that first round to three centers: Ocean Rims, in Bremen; Functional Nanostructures, in Karlsruhe; and Experimental Biomedicine, in Würzburg.

A second call, in early 2001, was devoted to one topic: Modelling and Simulation in Science, Engineering and Social Science. (A fifth center, in genomics, is currently in the evaluation round.) Our joint proposal, which was coordinated by Martin Grötschel (TU and ZIB, and now chair of the center), Volker Mehrmann (TU and now vice-chair of the center), Peter Deuflhard (FU and ZIB), Hans Föllmer (HU), and Jürgen Sprekels (HU and WIAS), had 14 strong competitors. In July 2001 we learned that we were among the three finalists, which meant that we then had to prepare a detailed proposal (a densely packed book of 400 pages). In January 2002 we joined the other two finalists in defending our proposals before an international group of reviewers. The final decision, in May 2002, was based on the "winner takes all" principle. It made us very happy but left two very disappointed runners-up, who had spent as much time and energy on their applications as we had.

Once the decision was made, activity grew exponentially: The administration of the center has to be set up, facilities have to be prepared (the center will occupy a large part of the mathematics building of TU Berlin), and, most important, about 60 researchers, seven assistant professors, and seven full professors have to be hired. The grant is for four years and has a maximal life-time of 12 years.

The Center's Mission
As stated in our proposal, with key technologies becoming more complex and innovation cycles getting shorter, flexible mathematical models are needed if scientists and engineers are to master complexity, react quickly, and explore new smart options. Such models can be obtained only via abstraction. This line of thinking provides our global vision: Innovation needs flexibility, flexibility needs abstraction, the language of abstraction is mathematics. But, as the proposal makes clear, mathematics is far more than a language, providing significant "value-added" contributions: theoretical insight, efficient algorithms, optimal solutions. Thus, key technologies and mathematics interact in a joint process of innovation.

The mission of the center is to give a strong push to the role of mathematics in this interactive process. The center's research program is application-driven, but we envision it having a strong impact on the development of many other areas of mathematics as well; we also see it defining new levels of inter- and transdisciplinary cooperation. Mathematically, the center will emphasize optimization and discrete mathematics, numerical analysis and scientific computing, and applied and stochastic analysis; building on existing collaborations, it will address key technologies in five areas:

In addition to its role as a mathematical research institution, the center aims to support cooperation with other sciences, engineering, and economics and, in particular, with partners in commerce and industry. The center also has a strong interest in enhancing public awareness of mathematics and in mathematical education at all levels.

Additional information can be found on the center's Web site (, which is just now being designed and developed.

Volker Mehrmann, vice-chair of the new center, is at the Institut für Mathematik, TU Berlin.

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