Applied Mathematics in Europe

July 23, 1999

From the SIAM President
Gilbert Strang

The growing cooperation of applied mathematics societies in Europe, and the expanding networks of labs and departments, are remarkable to see. I will write about what I am learning, with the reader's understanding that this is not at all the report of a long and careful study. It is more an outline of the situation at this moment (June 1999). To give some structure, I will list four strongly overlapping organizations that are significant outside national boundaries:

  1. CICIAM, the union of national societies worldwide
  2. ECCOMAS, European Community on Computational Methods in Applied Sciences
  3. ECMI, European Consortium for Mathematics in Industry
  4. SIAM

Many individuals attend the meetings of all four! These four organizations respond to different (and again overlapping) needs. Maybe I can describe them very generally this way: ECCOMAS and ECMI focus on technology more than science, modeling more than theory, manufacturing more than research. CICIAM organizes a major international congress every four years. (Edinburgh is a few days away as I write; you will read about it in the next issue. The congress after that is in Sydney in 2003.) I would like to say more at the end about SIAM---how it serves applied mathematicians in Europe and what new things it could do.

The centers that belong to ECMI are in universities. For ECMI, training students to be industrial mathematicians has always been central. The annual Modelling Week is a highlight---a friendly competition of 12 graduate student teams, each representing five countries and analyzing a problem from industry. This contest is one element in a program that goes on all year---a common core of course-work and student exchanges and research collaboration in Special Interest groups. The groups organize workshops like the "Polymer Days" held last February in Milan.

Unlike ECMI, whose growth has been bottom-up, ECCOMAS holds full-scale conferences. The strong industrial representation at these conferences is not a trivial achievement. The time scales in the academic and industrial worlds are different, and so are the rewards, but ECCOMAS brings those worlds together. It has recognized the reality of competition---among companies, among countries, and among continents. You see that I am expressing frankly one motivation of ECCOMAS---to help European industry.

I suppose that for all of us, wherever we work, an element of competition is intertwined with cooperation. We hope to be first with a good idea. We also hope very much that others will use that idea. Joint papers are written; we become next-door neighbors in the important metric. It is true that Airbus competes with Boeing, and they don't share designs---but they certainly share Euler's equation.

Between Europe and the Americas there has been a long and happy exchange of mathematicians. At home in both, they move freely between one and the other. Such exchanges are rapidly increasing within Europe. I am writing from a CIME summer school in the far south of Italy. Twenty-five years ago, CIME was Italian. This time the organizers are Vincenzo Capasso, Heinz Engl, and Jacques Périaux, and the students are European.

Naturally, I look for the right role for SIAM in Europe. Mathematically, our society has a wide scope. Applied mathematics has moved beyond mechanics, and SIAM has helped new areas to grow. This is continuing now, in computational science and engineering (CS&E) and life sciences, and probably soon in imaging science. Geographically, SIAM and its membership are truly international. I meet mathematicians everywhere in the world for whom SIAM is the key society. So I come to a specific suggestion about a next step for SIAM. I believe it is the right time for SIAM to organize a large meeting in Europe. My own instinct is that this first conference could focus on CS&E. SIAM's Activity Groups will have suggestions too---and I think that this meeting would not be the last. The conference will be large if, as I hope, it has joint sponsorship. Every reader will understand that such a suggestion needs the approval of many people---SIAM's Program Committee, its staff, its officers, and our members in Europe. If you allow me to end the column with this idea for the future, we can consider it and decide together.


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