Only Connect

March 13, 2004

Talk of the Society
James M. Crowley

As I write this column, the snow on the ground and the sleet tapping the window are reminders that we're still in the first month of 2004. With the new year, we welcomed a new group of officers and members of the SIAM Board of Trustees and Council, and we look forward to moving in some of the directions they'll inspire in the coming year. Election results were reported in the January/February issue of SIAM News.

The board of trustees met in December 2003, in the middle of another Philadelphia snowstorm. At the meeting the group made several important decisions that should be of interest to the SIAM membership, beginning with the election of Michael Overton of the Courant Institute as chair of the board for the calendar year 2004.

One topic on the board's agenda was the creation of reciprocity arrangements with societies that have in common with SIAM the goal of promoting applied mathematics/ computational science. An ad hoc Membership Committee chaired by Marty Golubitsky, now SIAM president-elect, had recommended that we consider establishing such relationships. The board approved the project, and SIAM is now exploring reciprocity agreements with a few societies, a group that will be extended on a case-by-case basis. Once an agreement is signed, members of each society will be able to join the other at a discounted rate.

As agreements are signed, we will post them at, under Membership. Societies interested in establishing reciprocity agreements should consult either the SIAM vice president at large (Joe Flaherty) or me ([email protected]).

Still on the topic of working with other societies, the board discussed the International Congress on Industrial and Applied Mathematics, and especially the role of the SIAM Annual Meeting in ICIAM years. For ICIAM 2007, which will be held in Zurich, the board decided that SIAM will strongly support the Congress, in part by not holding an annual meeting that year.

SIAM will probably hold some committee meetings and award prizes at ICIAM 2007. As to some of the other special activities associated with an annual meeting---Student Day, Diversity Day, career fairs---we are exploring ways to work them into the program for a major SIAG conference in 2007.

The board also agreed that we should move forward with electronic (Web-based) voting for SIAM elections. Institution of an electronic voting system will require a change in the SIAM bylaws, which explicitly require paper ballots; a vote of the membership will be required to amend the bylaws to permit electronic voting. If the membership approves, SIAM is prepared to offer voting via the Web. (Readers are encouraged to check out the article by Sara Robinson in this issue; clearly, electronic voting is an important current research area, and the issues that arise concern voters all over the world. While aware of the security risks of e-voting, we believe that the benefits---mainly in the form of assurance to our members outside the U.S. that their votes will reach us in time to count---far outweigh any risks.)

The growing set of SIAM Activity Groups also came in for discussion as the board considered measures that could enable the groups to operate more effectively, such as standardized rules of procedure and better guidelines for starting and ending activity groups.

More exciting is the news that DSWeb, created by the SIAG on Dynamical Systems, is now up and active. All SIAM members are encouraged to take a look ( The site, designed to be a portal for the group and the area it covers, features, among other things, an electronic magazine. Members of other SIAGs might see a model for similar activities in their own areas.

These and other ideas and activities covered by the SIAM Council and Board of Trustees will be on the agenda for the general business meeting during the SIAM Annual Meeting in July in Portland, Oregon (see for information about the program). All SIAM members are encouraged to attend the business meeting, take part in the discussions, and propose ideas they have.


The Annual Meeting is shaping up to be an outstanding event, all the more so with the SIAM Conference on the Life Sciences---sponsored by the SIAG on the Life Sciences---running in parallel. John Bell and John Dennis, co-chairs of the organizing committee for the Annual Meeting, have assembled an outstanding committee that has chosen a great list of invited speakers. Also putting together an exciting program are Carson Chow and Tamar Schlick, co-chairs for the life sciences meeting.

The combination of these two meetings in Portland comes at an opportune time. Interest in applications of mathematics to biology is increasing among mathematical scientists, and the SIAM community already has a long history of research in this interdisciplinary area. For their part, biologists are increasing their efforts to quantify their discipline. Documenting this trend, a recent issue of Science (Vol. 303, No. 5659, February 6, 2004) is devoted to the theme "Mathematics in Biology." In addition, the National Institutes of Health has expressed increased interest in collaborations involving groups of applied mathematicians and biologists. In Portland, program managers from NIH will participate in a panel discussion organized to consider ways in which the SIAM community can become more involved in NIH-sponsored work.

Along with an obvious emphasis on biology and the life sciences, themes of the Annual Meeting include the geosciences, multiscale modeling, stochastic differential equations and uncertainty, and scientific computing. Two speakers-George Oster and Leah Edelstein-Keshet-have been designated joint invited speakers for the Portland meetings. Oster, whose work on locomotion of bacteria has been featured (quite vividly, as I remember) in SIAM News (, will discuss that work as well as pattern formation in bacteria. Edelstein-Keshet will discuss the modeling of type I diabetes.

Industrial mathematics is well represented on the Annual Meeting program. Invited speaker Tom Grandine of Boeing will discuss geometric modeling and its role in industry. The I.E. Block Community Lecture this year will also have an industrial flavor: Michael Ray of ExxonMobil promises to consider the role of mathematical modeling in the petrochemical industry.

Rounding out the list of plenary speakers for the Annual Meeting are Alexandre Chorin, Yannis Kevrekidis, and Steven Wright. Six topical (semi-plenary) lectures will complement the invited talks, and we also look forward to several prize lectures. Alan Newell will give this year's John von Neumann lecture; also on the program are the AWM/SIAM Sonia Kovalevsky lecture, and the W.T. and Idalia Reid and Theodore von Kármán prize lectures.

The SIAM Annual Meeting comes near the end of a busy half year that includes conferences in parallel processing (February), data mining (April), imaging science, numerical combustion, and materials science (all in May), and discrete mathematics (June). Check our Web site, under Conferences (Conference Calendar), for further information on any of these meetings. Looking further ahead, our two new SIAGs, in nonlinear waves and coherent structures and in PDEs, will hold their meetings later in the fall.

For some SIAM members, our conference activities for the year began in January in Phoenix, where we were once again an active participant in the Joint Mathema-tics Meetings. This year, SIAM was responsible for one plenary lecture, which was given by Marty Golubitsky, and several minisymposia---in the areas of nonlinear dynamics and elasticity, and in education. We were also well represented in joint sessions on mathematical biology.

In a 50-minute talk intended for the broad audience typical of the Joint Mathematics Meetings, Golubitsky covered coupled cell systems and their applications. Along with a general introduction to cells (coupled systems of differential equations) and their analysis---looking at how symmetry changes with parameters, for example---he introduced synchrony, with a simple example of how two cells operate in tandem.

The most interesting of the applications he presented was an analysis of animal gaits (think trot, pace, walk, and so forth, in horses). Is it possible, he asked, that there is a network of neurons (modeled as cells) that changes an animal's gait? Answering in the affirmative, he described the construction of a simple network that explains the gaits found in the horse literature, but produces an additional gait, not commonly discussed. But that gait---really a jump---does occur, as vividly illustrated in a short video clip in which a horse comes out of the gate at a rodeo (a "bucking bronco"). It was an interesting and informative talk, with examples no doubt drawn from the speaker's years at the University of Houston.

Another noteworthy speaker at the Joint Meetings was Michael Turner, the National Science Foundation's new assistant director for the Mathematical and Physical Sciences. Speaking at an AMS session on science policy, Turner talked about his own research (in dark energy) and about his vision for the MPS Directorate and the Division of Mathematical Sciences at NSF. Citing productive interactions between mathematics and the physical sciences, he expressed strong support for research in the mathematical sciences. We welcome Michael Turner as NSF's new director for the Mathematical and Physical Sciences.


SIAM's Education Committee was a visible presence in Phoenix, where in addition to sponsoring four minisymposia, the committee was convened by Bill Briggs to discuss some of its activities, from the Mathematical Contest in Modeling to the Visiting Lecturer Program.

In discussing the VLP, the Education Committee focused on ways to expand the roster of lecturers. SIAM promotes the program---and applied mathematics and computing---by collecting a list of outstanding speakers and the topics of talks they're willing to give in a brochure that is circulated to academic departments. Zuhair Nashed is currently coordinating the program.

Many of the VLP speakers focus on real-world applications in industry or business. Interested departments contact the speakers and pay any expenses they submit. SIAM's role is mainly to circulate the names and topics of available speakers. Details can be found on the SIAM Web site. If you are interested in serving as a VLP lecturer, please send your name to Nashed ([email protected]) and me ([email protected]), and we will see that the VLP committee considers adding you to the list.

A final note, which, like the rest of this column, takes its cue from E.M. Forster's famous "Only connect" (Howard's End): Each April SIAM joins the American Mathematical Society and the Mathematical Association of America in a form of outreach to a broad audience---from undergraduates to policy makers---known as Mathematics Awareness Month. This year's theme, motivated in part by a substantial number of popular books on the subject, is the Mathematics of Networks. A small SIAM committee, chaired by Steve Strogatz, helped put together a poster and essays on the theme. Mark Newman's recent (June 2003) Survey and Review paper in SIAM Review serves as an excellent source of information for the SIAM community, and short descriptions from many active researchers in the field should give all who visit the Web site ( a feel for the exciting research now under way.

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