A Word from the Chair
By Bernard Deconinck
Third newsletter in this electronic format already! A quiet year in some ways, and an eventful one in other ways. First, I want to extend my thanks to Professor Randy LeVeque who stepped in as acting chair, while I was on sabbatical in Autumn and Winter Quarters. You never fully leave being chair behind, but Randy made my life while I was away a lot easier.
I suspect some of you might not read this entire letter, so I will put the important stuff up front: as you may know, Applied Math at UW started in 1969 when Carl Pearson founded the Applied Mathematics Committee, which was a vehicle for the teaching of some applied math courses. Through different steps (group, program), this effort resulted in the formation of the Department of Applied Mathematics in 1985. All of this means that next year we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Applied Mathematics at UW. We intend to do this by organizing a forward-looking conference "Applied Mathematics: the next 50 years" at UW, June 19-21, 2019. This three-day conference will be preceded by a two-day workshop (June 17-18, 2019) on the themes of data science and optimization, and various applications. The workshop is mostly aimed at alums and junior researchers, including students. For the broader-themed conference (June 19-21), we will have 5 plenary speakers, parallel sessions and panel discussions. There will be plenty of reunion-type activities as well. You will receive a separate invitation for this event soon, but mark your calendars now!
Let me share a few of the details of my sabbatical: I started Autumn Quarter at the International Centre for Theoretical Sciences in Bangalore. This is one of the famous Tata Institutes in India. I visited my former PhD student Vishal Vasan, who is a faculty member there, for six weeks. After spending some time in Nepal, I went to Vienna for three weeks, where I participated in a workshop on water waves at the Schrödinger Institute. Winter Quarter had less travel, with just one long trip to the University of Otago, in Dunedin, New Zealand. Spent most of my time working on my (always growing) nonlinear waves book, while also starting a new book on the unified transform method to solve partial differential equations (PDEs).
The main event this year was the department’s ten-year review. We use this as a way to evaluate what we are doing well, and what could be improved. All of this resulted in a 65-page report, mainly written by Randy with the help of the Executive Committee (Profs. Tim Leung, Hong Qian, Eric Shea-Brown, KK Tung) and even myself, remotely. It’s a real page turner! Our external review committee (Profs. Mark Ablowitz (University of Colorado, Boulder, Amath), Dennis Hartman (UW Atmospheric Science, Chair), Leah Keshet (University of British Columbia, Math), Tom Quinn (UW, Astronomy) thought so too: after reading the report and visiting for two days, they filed their own very positive report. Our self-evaluation and their report will have a big impact on the future of the department: while remaining committed to the quality of the undergraduate Applied and Computational Mathematical Sciences (ACMS) major (joint with Math, Statistics and Computer Science) we will be starting our own undergraduate major. We are discussing various options to do this. Although the program might not be on the books by the next newsletter a year from now, we should have a good idea what it will look like at that point. Professor KK Tung tells you a bit more about it here, in addition to highlighting his research.
Two new staff arrived in the department: while I was in India, our administrator Keshanie Dissanayake dropped the bombshell that she intended to retire in May 2018. Keshanie has been with the university for 38 years, and with the department for 25 years. We all miss her, but it is great that she gets to enjoy all the travel she wants to do, and spend more time with her grandchildren. The ungrateful task of replacing Keshanie falls to Rachel Reichert, who we stole from the Department of Law, Societies and Justice. She was also the interim administrator for Sociology. Also new to the department is Sarah Riley, who just started on May 29th. Sarah is the new Graduate Program Advisor for the Computational Finance and Risk Management (CFRM) program, replacing Laurie Feldman, who took over as program manager after the departure of Matt Austin. A fond farewell to Matt and Keshanie, and a hearty welcome to Rachel and Sarah!
Our department graduated nine students with PhD degrees, 54 students with MS degrees in CFRM, and 48 students with MS degrees in applied mathematics. Remarkably these are exactly the same numbers as last year. A photo special on our ever-larger graduation ceremony is available here, as is a list of faculty and student awards recognized here, and a list of all degree recipients. As usual, our CFRM graduates and a good number of our applied math MS graduates are moving on to interesting industry positions. CFRM graduate Jack Simonson tells you about his path here, while applied math MS graduate Emily Curtis tells you about her job with the Seattle Mariners here. Some of our applied mathematics graduates are continuing in PhD programs, either with us or elsewhere. Our PhD students continue to do well in placement too, ranging from academics (California Institute of Technology, Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques Paris, Johns Hopkins University, Rice University, University of California, Merced, University of Puget Sound, …) to industry. Krithika Manohar and Felix Ye tell you about their experiences in the PhD program here and here, respectively. Our PhD student recruiting was annoyingly successful this year: we were aiming for a small incoming class of about six students, but so many students accepted our offer that we ended up with a large class of 11 new students. It is a luxurious problem to have and we look forward to welcoming these great new contributors (MS and PhD) to the department.
This year, we started to seriously think about how we teach our classes. The department has always been at the forefront of innovative teaching methods, and we continue to explore new ideas. Not surprisingly, our students push us in this regard. A student-led reading group on active-learning and other new teaching ideas was formed. Jake Price and Kelsey Marcinko tell you more about it here. One of our Boeing colloquia this year was a cross-campus event in Kane Hall attended by an attentive 600-strong audience who listened to Physics Nobel Prize laureate Carl Wieman talk about the benefits of active-learning methods. His presentation and its slides can be revisited here.
As usual, we wish to highlight the list of our Boeing Colloquium Series speakers for the next academic year. The Boeing Colloquium continues to be the venue where we try to bring the entire department together with talks whose level is accessible to a large audience. All of you are invited, of course. Please mark the dates for next year!
Finally, I want to acknowledge all of you who have given generously to the department! Your support is used to provide fellowships for students and travel support to help them attend conferences and workshops, as well as research endowments for faculty. Our department is better because of your continued support and all of our departmental members, faculty, staff and students, thank you!