Applied Mathematics in Action Worldwide

June 17, 2000

From the SIAM President
Gilbert Strang

I am starting this column in a different way, with news from Washington about three open positions that are important to applied mathematics. Philippe Tondeur of the National Science Foundation is developing a new program in mathematical biology, and a program director is needed to lead it. The goal is to learn where good work is being done in this interdisciplinary field and where more effort is needed---and to provide support.

An appointment typically extends for two years, but there is great flexibility. Qualifications are also flexible---experience with other applications (and computations) could be sufficient. The best contact is Bernard McDonald. This NSF initiative matches the growing interest in mathematical aspects of biology at NIH, and SIAM's formation of an activity group in the life sciences.

The other openings are in the Office of Science at the Department of Energy. A position that is quite critical for many SIAM members is the one formerly held by Fred Howes. His special character and our untimely loss were reported in the March issue of SIAM News. The program that Fred developed is vitally important, and I urge potential candidates and nominators to contact Linda Twenty. At the same time, to maintain its very strong program in computational mathematics and science, DOE needs to fill the upper-level position of director of the Mathematical, Information, and Computational Sciences Division (Announcement ETR 00-ES-10-014). The deadline is tight---applications must be received by June 5, 2000. The experience of directing a program of this size (over $120 million) is an exceptional opportunity, and I hope that SIAM members will respond.

I could add more about Washington, where a major mathematics initiative is planned for the next budget. The current NSF budget is oscillating as usual between the Administration (up) and congressional appropriations (down). A drama is to be played out soon. But I hope you will forgive me for suddenly changing the subject to Japan and China.

This year is the 10th anniversary of JSIAM in Japan. JSIAM president Hideo Kawarada invited me to represent SIAM and to speak about directions we are taking (new activity groups and conferences). JSIAM has good leadership and my visit was a pleasure. The day ended with Mozart, and a reception, and no singing (I remember all too well an utterly hopeless attempt at "Home on the Range" years ago in Tokyo). Like every applied mathematics society, JSIAM is pressed to find the right place among big neighbors like engineering and computer science. They have just formed an activity group in financial mathematics (should we?).

My flight on to China had something new---a trigonometry lesson. Sitting next to me was a special-effects cameraman who had just finished filming Bedazzled (to be released in August). More unlikely than that, he records camera angles using the arctangent! He measures the distance L across and H up, and the calculator produces arctan (H/L). Applied mathematics in action, all good, no need for professor. But what if he has the angle and the distance L, and wants H? Oh, that subtle difference between tan and arctan can be useful to know. . . .

I often speak about SIAM's hope to be active and useful (and to cooperate with other societies. Here I particularly want to call attention to the Pacific Rim Dynamical Systems Conference (August 9-13 in Hawaii). That meeting is sure to be a success. So is our first large meeting in Europe (Berlin in early September, 2001. I think we can't fail to move forward in these directions, and we won't.

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