UW Math Program Attracts Researchers From Around World

June 15, 2012
Professor lecturing
Vanderbilt University Professor Glenn Webb works with a group of students participating in the Rocky Mountain Mathematics Consortium Summer School 2012 at the University of Wyoming. (UW Photo)

More than 40 graduate students, post-doctoral researchers and professors from around the world have gathered on the University of Wyoming campus to explore how mathematical models can be used in the fields of epidemiology and ecology.

The Rocky Mountain Mathematics Consortium (RMMC) has held a summer school at UW for 32 years, but this year's two-week gathering is the first to explore ways math can be applied to research on the spread of disease and on the interaction of living organisms and the environment.

"We have a good mix of students -- biologists who want to learn more about math, and mathematicians who are interested in ecology and epidemiology," says Michael Dillon, UW Department of Zoology and Physiology assistant professor. "Those two groups generally speak very different languages. By bringing them together, we hope they'll learn how to communicate with one another."

Participants are listening to lectures from professors representing top institutions around the country: the University of Utah, Arizona State University, Purdue University, the University of Alabama, Oakland University, the University of California-Davis, Vanderbilt University and UW.

In addition, participants have teamed up to work on specific projects showing how mathematical models can be used to better understand actual phenomena, ranging from the spread of HIV infection to the impact of  human activity and predators on desert tortoise populations. The groups will present their findings on the final day of the event, June 22.

Coordinating the program are Rongsong Liu, professor in the UW Department of Mathematics; Dillon; and Duane Porter, professor emeritus in the Department of Mathematics.

Dillon and Liu both began working at UW in 2009, and even though they come from different backgrounds -- Dillon is an ecologist, Liu is a mathematician -- they have found that collaboration has been beneficial in their respective fields. That's the type of interdisciplinary approach they hope to foster through this year's RMMC summer school.

They also see great potential for increased research at UW using mathematical modeling with the pending development of a high-performance computing cluster on campus, and UW's affiliation with the National Center for Atmospheric Research-Wyoming Supercomputing Center in Cheyenne.

Sponsors of the summer school are the National Science Foundation, the RMMC, the Institute for Mathematics and its Applications, the UW College of Arts and Sciences, the UW Office of Academic Affairs, the UW Office of Research and Economic Development, and UW's departments of Zoology and Physiology and Mathematics.

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