Putting Our Success Stories to Work in Washington

September 6, 2002


In an outstanding John von Neumann Lecture at SIAM's 50th Anniversary Meeting, Eric Lander made it clear, as perhaps no one else would have the authority to do, that continued progress in genomics requires strong ties between biologists and mathematical and computational scientists.

Talk of the Society
Thomas Manteuffel and James Crowley

SIAM celebrated its 50th birthday in July in Philadelphia, and a grand celebration it was! Along with the usual collection of invited presentations, minisymposia, contributed talks, and poster presentations, the meeting featured several special events.

A reception in the Crystal Tearoom of the old Wanamaker building, a Philadelphia landmark, drew a very large crowd of SIAM members, who spent the better part of the evening socializing and networking, meeting old friends and new. This was followed by a banquet at the hotel; about 220 people attended, including a good turnout of SIAM past presidents. With a silent show of slides from SIAM's past as a backdrop, Harold Kuhn (SIAM's third president) and current president Tom Manteuffel led a series of toasts. Especially memorable were John Ewing, with a presentation from the AMS, Mike Overton, who remembered all the SIAM past presidents in attendance and even presented them as a well-ordered set, and, of course, Ed Block, who had barely begun to mention early contributors when his allotted time was over.

With well over a thousand participants, the Philadelphia meeeting was our largest annual meeting ever. The organizers, Margaret Wright and Marty Golubitsky, had planned a program that nicely balanced a retrospective look at our discipline with an outstanding selection of forward-looking research.

One innovation (among several) was a slate of "topical" talks, semiplenary invited talks (i.e., two competing talks in the same time slot). The downside was the too-frequent need to choose between equally interesting talks in a single time slot, but the format is one that permits an extremely diverse array of topics and speakers. Tutorial sessions, another innovation, had the goal of exposing students and researchers to areas of research with which they were not familiar.

Other highlights of SIAM50 were Diversity Day (with special thanks due to co-organizers Juan Meza and Bill Massey), an annual event for young people from groups that have been underrepresented in the mathematical sciences; Teachers Day (organized by Lee Seitelman); and Student Day (organized by Terry Herdman, SIAM vice president for education).

Many of the special activities are pictured on the first three pages of this issue, and SIAM News promises further coverage of the meeting in future issues. One final meeting highlight we want to mention here is the well-attended prize luncheon, and we would like to take this opportunity to express our personal congratulations to this year's prize recipients: Jonathan Chapman, who received the Julian Cole Prize; Gang Hu, the Richard C. DiPrima Prize; Craig Tracy and Harold Widom, the George Pólya Prize; H.T. Banks, the W.T. and Idalia Reid Prize; Pierre-Antoine Absil, Dong Eui Chang, and Andreas Waechter, SIAM Student Paper Prizes (with honorable mention to Atife Caglar, John Dunagan, and Philipp Kuegler); and student teams from the University of Washington and Duke University, the SIAM Award in the Mathematical Contest in Modeling. Special recognition and thanks go to Eric Lander for delivering an outstanding John von Neumann Lecture.

One final set of awards was made at SIAM50: the Frederick A. Howes Commendation for Public Service, to Marc Jacobs, long-time program officer at the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and Philippe Tondeur, who concluded a term as director of NSF's Division of Mathematical Sciences this summer. In their very different positions at U.S. federal agencies, both made outstanding contributions to the community.

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That last paragraph leads directly to our other topic for this issue's column. At press time, we learned that William Rundell of Texas A&M University would succeed Philippe Tondeur as director of DMS. Rundell comes to NSF at an interesting time. Along with the challenge of maintaining strong ties to other disciplines while continuing to address the needs of the discipline, he faces some budget uncertainty.

The DMS budget has experienced a period of generous increases, growing from a total of $101 million in FY 1999 to $151 million in FY 2002. The status of funding for DMS in FY 2003 remains in doubt at the time of this writing, however. The President's budget requested $182 million for DMS in FY 2003, an increase of $30 million over FY 2002. Unfortunately, the Senate version of the appropriation---the last step in the budget cycle completed before the summer recess---included an increase of only $10 million for DMS, for a total of $162 million, while increasing the overall budget for the physical sciences (the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate, which contains DMS) by $135 million. The House has yet to complete its work on the budget, which will then go on to conference and final passage.

The SIAM leadership, through the SIAM Committee on Science Policy, is working hard to persuade the House Appropriations Committee and the House/Senate Conference Committee to adopt the original budget request. To succeed, we need to make the case that the previous increases have been used wisely and that the planned increases are warranted. The previous funding increases have been invested in three main areas:

In addition, the increased funding has allowed DMS to forge partnerships with other disciplines and even other organizations. DMS has worked with the National Institutes of Health to develop joint programs in mathematical biology, with DARPA and the CISE Directorate at NSF on a program titled "Computational and Algorithmic Representation of Geometric Objects," and with NSF's Geosciences Directorate on a program linking the two fields.

All these programs have begun to pay off, with increased numbers of mathematics majors and graduate students in the mathematical sciences. Recent reports from NSF show a 23% increase in the number of NSF-supported postdocs and an 11% increase in numbers of graduate students over the three-year period ending in 2001. After many years of serious declines, these figures reflect a welcome turnaround. Changes in the pipeline have long time lags, though, and the full effect of NSF's investments won't be apparent for several years. The recent funding increases represent a step in the right direction, but continued increases are important for keeping the mathematical sciences on track to reach parity with other disciplines. The challenge faced by the new director of DMS will be to move such efforts forward, keeping the mathematical sciences community involved and at the same time maintaining the strong interdisciplinary ties. We look forward to working with Bill Rundell to help achieve these goals.

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While many SIAM members in the U.S. work in mathematics departments and rely on NSF/DMS in some way, others do not. Within the U.S., many look for support to NSF's Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate or to other parts of the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate, or to the Department of Energy or the defense agencies. Many of our members find exciting research at the boundaries between disciplines. Thus, it is important to the SIAM membership that the federal government maintain strong funding support for all the sciences and, in particular, for interdisciplinary programs.

One area that's exciting to many SIAM members is computational science. Inherently interdisciplinary, this area combines mathematics, computing, and application disciplines. Computational biology and global climate modeling are two examples that come to mind. SIAM now has an activity group in Computational Science and Engineering (CS&E); among its upcoming activities is the SIAM Conference on Computational Science and Engineering (CSE03;February 10-13, 2003, San Diego).

SIAM is also planning a small workshop on computational science, mathematics, and engineering (CSME). The goal of this November 2003 workshop is to compile a report on "grand challenges" in computational science. The workshop, with a distinguished organizing committee chaired by Margaret Wright, will look into the research directions and resources needed to advance progress on significant problems and explore ways to develop the CSME discipline. The workshop will focus on a limited number of major problems in science and engineering of interest to NSF and DOE. Details will be posted on the SIAM conference Web site as they become available.


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