UIC, partners team up for $15.5M NSF-funded math institute

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Mathematicians and statisticians from the University of Illinois at Chicago will join a collaborative group of researchers representing three other leading research universities in Illinois as part of the new Institute for Mathematical and Statistical Innovation.

Funded with a five-year, $15.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation, or NSF, the University of Chicago-based institute aims to bring powerful mathematical ideas to bear on key contemporary scientific and technological challenges, while enriching scientific research and workforce development in Chicago and the state of Illinois.

The researchers from UIC, UChicago, Northwestern University,
and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will build a program that
accelerates the translation of applied mathematical and statistical techniques
into solutions for urgent scientific and societal problems. Many of these
problems arise naturally in a range of fields already being studied across the
four partner institutions, including climate change, health care, quantum
information theory, artificial intelligence, data science, economics, and
materials science.

Brooke Shipley
Brooke Shipley, UIC professor and head of mathematics, statistics and computer science and co-principal investigator of the grant.

“UIC mathematicians and statisticians are excited to be involved with IMSI in building new research
collaborations and industry partnerships to work on these urgent problems while
also enhancing workforce development in the region,” said Brooke
Shipley, UIC professor and head of mathematics, statistics, and computer
science and co-principal investigator of the grant. 

Shipley noted that expanded internship opportunities for
graduate students is another benefit of the partnership.

The Institute for Mathematical and Statistical Innovation
will serve as a national platform for research, outreach, and workforce
development to train the next generation of researchers in mathematics and
statistics, and bring together researchers from across the nation and around
the globe. 

The sponsoring institutions are home to well-established
intellectual and institutional resources in mathematics, statistics, and many
other fields, in addition to existing network of centers and research groups,
and institutional partnerships with national laboratories and corporate
partners.

Scientific activity at the institute will include workshops
and long programs, typically 10 weeks in length. Research activity will be
organized around themes that will evolve over time, with an initial focus on
data and information, climate science, health care, material science, quantum
computing and information, and uncertainty quantification.

There will also be a sustained focus on communication with
researchers in other fields, and in educating the public about the broad
utility of mathematics and statistics to everyday problems and social issues.

The institute will sponsor outreach and workforce
development programs aimed at K-12 students, teachers, undergraduates, and
graduate students to introduce participants to career opportunities in
mathematics and statistics, especially those from communities traditionally
underrepresented in the sciences.

“The influence of mathematical sciences on our daily lives is all around us and far-reaching,” said Juan C. Meza, division director of mathematical sciences at the NSF. “This program represents an investment in interdisciplinary connections across fields of science, and with impacts across sectors like computing, engineering, and health.”

UIC will play a key role in the institute’s mission to increase diversity in the mathematical sciences. Through an expansion of UChicago’s Young Scholars Program, UIC will host a summer program for middle school and high school students beginning in 2021. 

“This expansion of the Young Scholars Program at UIC will
focus on excellence and inclusion and it will allow many more students from
schools throughout Chicago to participate,” Shipley said.  

According to the institute’s affiliated researchers, recent
advances in applied science and technology are challenging available models and
paradigms developed by mathematicians and statisticians, providing a fertile
ground for the discovery of new applied mathematical techniques and discoveries
that have immediate applications to key modern applied scientific questions and
rapidly developing fields, such as data science, machine learning, and
artificial intelligence.

Yichao Wu
Yichao Wu, TransUnion Professor at UIC. Photo: Joshua Clark

“There are many ways in which the mathematical sciences can
help us come to grips with the massive growth in the amount of available data
describing complex systems, as well as with the complex uses of computing now
used to extract meaning from these data that may be leaving their mathematical
and theoretical foundations behind,” said Kevin Corlette, professor of
mathematics at UChicago and inaugural director of the institute. “These include
methods for evaluating the quality of data sets, simplification of models to
improve their predictive power and their ability to provide insight into
underlying principles, and new approaches to estimating the uncertainty of results
predicted by models.”

The
institute’s associate director position will rotate among the four institutions
with data scientist Yichao Wu, TransUnion Professor at UIC and director of
multidisciplinary research in data science in the College of Liberal Arts and
Sciences, slated to serve in that role from 2022 to 2024.

The NSF supports six other mathematical sciences institutes
to advance research in the mathematical sciences, increase the impact of the
mathematical sciences in other disciplines, and expand the talent base engaged
in mathematical research in the United States.

These are: American Institute of Mathematics Research Conference Center (AIM) in San Jose, California; Institute for Computational and Experimental Research in Mathematics (ICERM) at Brown University; Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics (IPAM) at the University of California-Los Angeles; Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI) at Berkeley, California; the Statistical and Applied Mathematical Sciences Institute (SAMSI) in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina; and a partnership with the  Institute For Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton.

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