50 Years and Counting for an Ever Evolving SIAM

June 3, 2002

Talk of the Society
Thomas Manteuffel and James Crowley

SIAM was founded fifty years ago---after vigorous start-up activity dating back to late 1951, it was incorporated on April 30, 1952---to foster progress in an area of science, applied mathematics, and to promote its application to other areas of science and industry. The new computational methods and tools developed in the years just after World War II were a strong component of SIAM, even in the early days, as was the breadth of mathematics being created and used in engineering, science, and technology.

SIAM has always had a clear mission: to serve the community of applied mathematicians and computational scientists. As we celebrate our 50th birthday, we can get a sense of the breadth of that community by looking at the scope of SIAM activities---our journals, conferences, and activity groups---and especially at the program for the conference being held in Philadelphia to celebrate this special anniversary.

One thing all these activities make clear is that SIAM has been open to new ideas; our interests have steadily expanded over the last fifty years to include many new areas. Imaging science, the life sciences, and computational science and engineering are the most recent areas in which SIAM has created activity groups, and held conferences, to serve the interests of SIAM members.

The program for our 50th Anniversary Meeting is wonderfully diverse, focusing as it does on a mixture of past accomplishments, current research, and future trends. One need only look at the organizing committee to get a sense of the breadth of the mathematical sciences represented. Margaret Wright and Marty Golubitsky chaired an organizing committee whose other members are Marsha Berger, Heinz Engl, and Walter Strauss. They developed a rich meeting that attempts to span the breadth of our discipline. In the process they devised some new structures, including "minitutorials" and invited topical (semi-plenary) talks, for this special SIAM annual meeting. The result is the addition of a wide array of invited talks to a meeting packed with events.

Central to the meeting are the five invited plenary speakers (Ingrid Daubechies, Martin Grötschel, Philip Holmes, Cleve Moler, and George Papanicolaou), who together will cover a vast range of applied mathematics---wavelets and approximation theory, discrete mathematics and theoretical computer science, nonlinear science and dynamical systems, mathematical software and numerical computation, and stochastic analysis. The applications to be considered by these speakers are equally diverse, representing a wide area of science and engineering. The organizers requested that these special talks span a wide range of time, past, present, and future, and that they be accessible to everyone in the community.

The minitutorial committee (Robert Calderbank, James Collins, David Keyes, David Mumford, Fadil Santosa) has assembled a slate of five speakers who will survey current research and applications in areas that range from discontinuous Galerkin methods for PDEs to elliptic curves in cryptography. The minitutorials are designed for those wishing an introduction to new areas.

The 20 topical speakers also will discuss a wide range of topics in applied mathematics and computing, with applications in areas as diverse as materials and thin films, tomography, hyperlinks on the Web, biology and medicine, and seismic analysis. The only difficulty with the novel structure of semi-parallel talks is the frequent need to choose between two talks you really want to hear! Minisymposia are normally a strength of SIAM meetings, and the program for the 50th Anniversary Meeting continues that tradition.

That SIAM has been receptive to new applications of mathematics over the years can also be seen in the special sessions scheduled for the meeting. Eric Lander of the Whitehead Institute will give The John von Neumann Lecture, the same day Rita Colwell, director of the National Science Foundation, is scheduled to give the keynote address. Colwell, like Lander a biologist, has voiced and repeatedly demonstrated her conviction that the mathematical sciences are essential to progress in all the sciences.

We're especially pleased that the recipients of this year's Joint Policy Board for Mathematics Communications Award---Helaman and Claire Ferguson---not only plan to be in Philadelphia to receive the prize, but will arrive with a truckload of the sculptures through which Helaman so vividly communicates mathematical ideas (Claire being the literary half of the team). And to conclude on another literary note, we hope that all interested will attend the Monday evening poetry reading.

Clearly, SIAM is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a very diverse meeting, made possible by the participation of many individuals and many groups within the SIAM community. We thank all who contributed---their generous donation of time and effort on behalf of the membership is what makes this meeting special for everyone.

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