Winter’s Tale: Funding Issues and SIAM Sessions at Joint Meetings

March 1, 2010

AWM president Georgia Benkart and SIAM president Doug Arnold toasted closer ties between the two societies in January at the Joint Math Meetings. Reciprocity agreements with other math societies, within and outside the U.S., have been a particular interest of Arnold, who is now in the second year of his two-year term as SIAM president. The SIAM board and council recently approved an official agreement with the Association for Women in Mathematics, making it the first U.S.-based group to have reciprocal membership benefits with SIAM. Also at the Joint Meetings, the presidents and executive directors of the AMS, MAA, and SIAM, hoping to encourage broad support for the mathematical sciences among members of the three societies, continued discussions of a joint membership that would offer a discount to members of all three. Photo by Maeve McCarthy.
Talk of the Society
James Crowley

January and February tend to be busy months for SIAM. The Board of Trustees, which holds one of its two yearly meetings in December, usually sets in motion a variety of activities and projects. SIAM is increasingly involved in the Joint Math Meetings, held in early January. And the U.S. science funding agencies, including the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy's Office of Science, release their proposed budgets for the coming fiscal year

The president's FY 2011 budget for NSF, which is essentially a request to Congress for funding, shows a significant increase for research---7.2%---above the amount appropriated for FY 2010. Allocations of particular interest to our community include an increase of 5.0% for the Division of Mathematical Sciences (one of five divisions in the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate) and an increase of 6.4% for the Office of Cyberinfrastructure. The proposed budget reflects the president's priorities, which give top spots to climate and energy research.

For DMS, the FY 2011 budget proposes participation in two cross-cutting initiatives (both, faithful to the buzzword of the day, expected to have "transformative" effects):

*The existing NSF-wide Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability (SEES) initiative. DMS's contribution of $9.5 million (up $2.5 million from FY 2010) would support the development of potentially transformative mathematical, statistical, and computational methods needed for analysis and simulation of climate models and would also increase DMS investment in the cross-MPS program on the efficient harvesting, conversion, and storage of solar energy.

*The new MPS–Life Sciences Interface. This interdisciplinary, MPS-wide activity would support potentially transformative research in mathematical and computational biology. DMS would contribute $2.39 million in new funding in FY 2011.

For DOE's Office of Science, the budget request would provide $426 million for Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR), an increase of $32 million (8.1%) above the FY 2010 enacted level. ASCR's increase is one of the highest among Office of Science programs; practically the entire increase is to be directed to the High Performance Computing and Network Facilities activity (up 13.3%, to $261 million, in FY 2011). This increase is devoted mainly to scheduled increases in DOE's lease payments on the supercomputers at the two Leadership Computing Facilities.

Funding for the Mathematical, Computational, and Computer Sciences Research activity would increase by only 0.8%, to $165 million. Funding for programs within the activity are all mainly flat as well, including Applied Mathematics (up 1.5%, to $45.5 million), Computational Partnerships (no increase, at $53.3 million), and Computer Science (up 1.3%, to $47.4 million). No new initiatives have been announced, but continuation of the Computational Science Graduate Fellowship program and the Applied Mathematics and High Performance Computer Science Graduate Fellowship program is confirmed.

Closer inspection of the administration's budget reveals a couple of interesting items. The budget request formally announces the consolidation or termination of a number of DMS workforce programs: Vertical Integration in Research and Education (VIGRE), Proactive Recruitment in Introductory Science and Mathematics (PRISM), Scientific Computing Research Environments in the Mathematical Sciences (SCREMS), Interdisciplinary Grants in the Mathematical Sciences (IGMS), University–Industry Cooperative Research Programs in the Mathematical Sciences, and Computational Science Training for Undergraduates in the Mathematical Sciences (CSUMS).

The decision on VIGRE, which is to be terminated, follows a study conducted by the U.S. National Research Council's Board on Mathematical Sciences and its Applications. DMS director Peter March announced the decision during an AMS panel discussion at the Joint Math Meetings, which were held this year in San Francisco, January 13–16. Science policy panel discussions, intended to be informative, are rarely lively. This one was both.

Another lively event at the Joint Meetings (reported with only a slight bit of bias) was the SIAM Invited Address by Brenda Dietrich. Dietrich, who runs the mathematical sciences division at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center, titled her talk "Optimization Inside: The Use of Mathematical Methods in Business Processes." In it she offered a wide-ranging survey of the kinds of mathematics used at IBM, and the impact on business. In introducing Dietrich, SIAM president Doug Arnold pointed to one example of the impact of mathematical research at IBM: the significant revenue generated by IBM's On Target sales prediction software. (A recent site visit to the Watson Research Center, as part of SIAM's Math in Industry project, showed IBM carefully balancing curiosity-driven research with targeted research intended to enhance the bottom line.)

Marcus du Sautoy, Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science and a professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford, received this year's JPBM Communications Award at the Joint Meetings. He has reached wide audiences in many formats, including a four-part television series, The Story of Maths, in which he traced the development of mathematics from the design of the pyramids in Egypt to Perelman's proof of the Poincaré conjecture. Du Sautoy, according to the JPBM prize committee, "invariably seizes opportunities to make mathematics more accessible and more appealing."

Another event featuring a talented communicator to a not-exclusively-mathematical audience was the Gerald and Judith Porter Public Lecture. Sponsored by the AMS, MAA, and SIAM, the lecture was the first public lecture given at the Joint Meetings. The speaker, Steve Strogatz (an earlier recipient of the JPBM Communications Award), gave a moving presentation based on his book The Calculus of Friendship.* Strogatz, a professor of mathematics at Cornell who works in dynamical systems, has been enlisted by The New York Times for a longer-term project: a series of 15 articles intended to introduce nonmathematicians to the world as experienced by mathematicians. Look for them on Mondays in the electronic edition of the Times.

SIAM's growing presence at the Joint Meetings over the past few years has also featured minisymposia, with topics this year including geo-mathematics, mathematics and sustainability, mathematics and a smart planet, discrete mathematics (graph theory), mathematical biology, and imaging science. The SIAM Education Committee contributed a minisymposium on outreach efforts to introduce high school students to applied mathematics. Some of the topics discussed in that session may form the core of a presentation at the USA Science and Engineering Festival (scheduled to be held on the mall in Washington, DC, October 23 and 24). The SIAM Education Committee plans to host a booth with displays and hands-on activities promoting applied mathematics to young people.

*See Gil Strang's review in SIAM News, December 2009, page 4.

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