A Word from the Chair, 2019

Submitted by Tony I Garcia on

By Bernard Deconinck

July 11, 2019

This was a trying year for the Department. Some of these trials were self inflicted, others were inflicted on us. As you read in last year’s newsletter, we celebrated 50 years of Applied Mathematics at UW this year by organizing a big research conference, coupled with some reunion gatherings. This was self inflicted: organizing all of this was a lot of work, but it was worth it: it was great seeing so many familiar faces again, and the scientific program was top notch. Also self inflicted was the ongoing effort to create our own undergraduate degrees. This too was (is) a lot of work, but it is very much worth it. The last major trial was not self inflicted: Amath’s home, Lewis Hall, is one of the oldest buildings on campus, and it is not up to code with Seattle’s new seismic reinforcement requirements. While this is being remedied, the entire department had to move out of Lewis, and to 4 different locations across campus. These three trials added to the usual workload for all of us. The silver lining is that next year will feel like a breeze! 

Let me talk about the 50th Anniversary conference. You can find much more detail, including our funding sources and sponsors at https://depts.washington.edu/amath/amath50/. Together with conference program manager Laurie Feldman and the rest of the Amath staff, we put together a schedule starting with a Monday-Tuesday workshop on data science and optimization (principal lecturers Sasha Aravkin and Nathan Kutz), followed by a Wednesday-Friday conference with plenary speakers, parallel sessions, and different panel discussions. At the end of the first conference day, a poster competition was held, with full dinner buffet. All was wrapped up on Saturday morning, with a reunion breakfast for all department members, alums, and friends. Almost all current faculty participated in the event, and we welcomed back many former departmental members, including faculty, postdocs and students. A more extensive write-up can be found here

The seismic upgrade of Lewis Hall was first put on our radar in Spring 2018.  At that point, we were told we would not be moved out of Lewis Hall, although people would be displaced temporarily to another part of the building. Intrusive, yes, but far less invasive than having our whole department move out of Lewis for three months (fingers very much crossed; by the time you read this we will know if this schedule is upheld). Moving from roughly 28,000 square feet in Lewis Hall, we were given an 1,800 square feet staff suite in the basement of Gerberding Hall. Some begging and pleading resulted in additional student space in Gerberding, and thanks to the charity of Biology and Physics, space for faculty and students. The main effort consisted of boxing everything up and coordinating the move of well over 50 people. Here too there is a silver lining: upon our return to Lewis Hall, we are likely not to have the ceilings come down on us during a major earthquake! 

We celebrate the arrival of new faculty member: Associate Professor Tom Trogdon joins us from the Mathematics Department at UC Irvine. If the name rings a bell, you are right: Tom is a PhD graduate (2013) from our department. Tom is a self-proclaimed probabilistic numerical analyst. He arrives with an NSF Career Grant and two prizes from the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics. While gaining one faculty member, we lost another: Associate Professor Ulrich Hetmaniuk has decided to leave the University, after a one year leave-of-absence. I want to thank Ulrich for his service to the Department and the University, during his more than decade-long stay with us. Next, on the faculty front, Assistant Professor Sasha Aravkin was promoted to Associate Professor, effective September 16, 2019. Congratulations Sasha! I want to highlight Professor Chris Bretherton’s election to the National Academy of Sciences this year. This is a tremendous honor, and Chris is the first faculty member from the Department to be so recognized. Moving on to staff, Derek Franz, the Department’s fiscal specialist left after ten years with us, for a higher-level position in Mechanical Engineering. Derek’s position has been temporarily filled by Mary Akhtar. A more permanent replacement will be searched for soon, since Mary has decided to leave WA state and move to the DC area. 

Our department graduated 3 students with PhD degrees, 47 students with MS degrees in CFRM, and 58 students with MS degrees in applied mathematics. Our department has by far the largest MS program in the College of Arts & Sciences! 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. Some of our applied mathematics graduates are continuing in PhD programs, either with us or elsewhere. Amath MS graduate Soraya Terrab tells you about how she returned to Colorado after her year here. Our PhD students continue to do well in placement too. All three are staying in academia this year, at UW (2) and MIT. Newly minted PhD Sam Rudy tells you about his NSF postdoctoral fellowship and his upcoming position at MIT here. Our students continue to do well after they leave us, as you can read in Yian Ma’s article here. Yian is starting a tenure-track position at UCSD’s Computer Science Department, after being a Postdoctoral Fellow at Berkeley. 

We round out the newsletter articles with contributions from Boeing Professor Anne Greenbaum, who is also the director of the ACMS program, and from Associate Professor Matt Lorig, who spent Spring Quarter in Chile. Lastly, we have a contribution from the Diversity Committee, which has continued to do great work this past year!

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 support for faculty. Our department is better because of your continued support and all of our departmental members, faculty, staff and students, thank you!