SIAM News Blog

NSF Sunsets Funding for IMA and MBI

By Pamela Cook and Irene Fonseca

Many of you have shared your concerns that NSF will be sunsetting funding for the Institute for Math and its Applications (IMA) and the Math Biology Institute (MBI, potentially to be continued through joint funding with the Biological Sciences Directorate). As current and immediate past presidents of SIAM, we share your concern. The Division of Mathematical Sciences has faced a difficult budget period and made decisions on these institutes after a thorough review process. Other institutes under reviewincluding MSRI, IPAM, and ICERMappear to have been recommended for renewal. NSF cannot share additional information until the review process has been completed, but we hope that NSF will eventually provide information on their vision for the institutes and clear policies concerning their longevity and metrics for success. We also recognize the strong role IMA and MBI play in anchoring applied mathematics in the midwest and connecting the community to industry, and hope that NSF will think thoughtfully about how to maintain these functions even as funding for these institutes is ended. We look forward to hearing from NSF regarding future support of the applied math community in light of these divestments.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and feedback through the comments section below.

 Pam Cook is Unidel Professor of Mathematics, Associate Dean of Engineering, and professor of chemical engineering at the University of Delaware. She is the current president of SIAM. 

Irene Fonseca is a past president of SIAM and the Mellon College of Science University Professor of Mathematics, and director of the Center for Nonlinear Analysis at Carnegie Mellon University.

8 thoughts on “NSF sunsets funding for IMA and MBI

  1. Richard Braun Jan 27,2015 3:47 pm

    It is very unfortunate that these institutes are ramping down. Though I benefited from MBI programs, I am most familiar with the IMA (including a stint as associate director) and I’m saddened that it is losing its current source of support. Perhaps it will continue with a new sponsor. Its infrastructure, impact and extensive work with industry is second to none. It is a loss for all of applied mathematics should its programs not continue; I hope the applied math community will make its thoughts on this development known.

    The director’s statement in this year’s annual report may be of interest; the breadth of programs and the incredible reach of the IMA is recalled there. See

    It may also be of interest that there is a petition expressing support of the IMA, which is shown by signing a letter to the head of MPS at the NSF. See

  2. Paul Tupper Feb 4,2015 1:07 am

    Here’s Barbara Keyfitz’s editorial on the defunding of the IMA:

  3. Jean-Luc Thiffeault Feb 5,2015 6:14 pm

    I think it is sad to close two institutes in the Midwest: it is a large geographical area and the IMA is a great center for scientists to gather. I see colleagues there from Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, and of course further abroad, whom I would not run into otherwise. I feel similar institutes are less crucial in California or in the East, where universities are densely packed.

    It is also sad to target the most applied institutes. This is moving in exactly in the opposite direction that mathematics should be — towards irrelevance rather than engaging with the world. The IMA cultivated industrial contacts and it is the only place where I met people from Ford, Corning…

  4. Daniel Reich Feb 10,2015 4:56 pm

    Ford has been a Participating Corporation member of the IMA for over a decade. I have been our Industrial Advisory Board member for the past two years. Erica Klampfl preceded me in this post and is currently serving on the IMA’s Board of Governors.

    In addition to several outstanding events in which we’ve personally participated, our colleagues who have attended other events have been equally impressed with the IMA’s activities. We were all sorely disappointed to hear of the NSF’s decision to discontinue funding.

    The IMA has a remarkable support staff. It caters to its Industrial partners to ensure that co-sponsoring industrial postdocs, collaborating and participating in events are all always as smooth and seamless as possible.

  5. Jay Gopalakrishnan Feb 20,2015 6:48 pm

    Here is an interesting quote from the 2013 report of the Committee of Visitors to DMS []:

    “Another unusual feature of the mathematical sciences is the mathematical sciences institutes. These are our community’s large projects, our telescopes peering into the future and our microscopes focusing intently on the deepest fundamental problems, our laboratories experimenting with new configurations of people and ideas and a significant vehicle for cultural change in the mathematical sciences. The Committee of Visitors endorses the great value of the institutes, is happy with the way that they are managed, while recommending a few improvements, largely to adjust certain artifacts of the history of the program.”

    Small wonder then that some of us, applied mathematicians, feel like astronomers without telescopes or biologists without microscopes, in the wake of this NSF decision.

  6. Chad Topaz Mar 4,2015 2:48 pm

    As others have written above, probably more eloquently than I can, it is devastating to lose these two institutions. I enjoyed a very enriching visit to MBI for a week one spring, and even more, have participated regularly at the IMA (including a full year of sabbatical) since it is 15 minutes away from my own institution, Macalester College.

    On that note, we at Macalester will feel this loss acutely. We have run a joint undergraduate summer research program with IMA, which over the past several years has taken the form of an NSF-funded REU directed by my colleague Andrew Beveridge. Students from my institution, from across Minnesota, and from across the country have gotten valuable research training there, and IMA postdocs and Macalester faculty have served as advisors to the students, including some of our younger Mac faculty for whom the research advising was a key professional development experience.

    Furthermore, I fully agree with Jean-Luc that it is a huge disappointment to see the most applied institutes cut.

  7. Andrew Beveridge Mar 18,2015 10:52 am

    As Chad notes in his previous comment, Macalester has partnered with the IMA in running an applied mathematics REU for the past six years. This program displayed the strengths and vision of the IMA in miniature: it created a collaborative space where folks with a wide variety of backgrounds and skills could come together to develop new mathematics. The program involved scientists, engineers and mathematicians of all stripes: university researchers, liberal arts professors, post-doctoral fellows, graduate and undergraduate students. Everyone got something out of participating in this focused research community, not just the undergraduates. This broad impact was by design, and credit for that revolutionary approach goes to the IMA.

    This program is just one example of how the IMA creates vital and exciting opportunities at the intersection of multiple fields. It also shows the breadth of scope that the IMA (and other Institutes) can tackle. These institutes are uniquely positioned to think and act strategically across the spectrum of mathematics. The IMA is a research institute, but it encompasses so much more. The IMA is visionary, even 32 years after its conception. I have witnessed, first hand, the energy and creativity behind developing innovative programs that inspire mathematicians at all level. Where else can you find a single entity that offers a modeling camp for high school students, a prize for young researchers, and a conference to honor celebrated mathematicians of our time?

    Finally, it would be a mistake to overlook the continuum of programming between these efforts. These are manifestations of the same guiding and transformative principles that power the IMA. The IMA constantly looked for ways to serve new communities. Jay’s quote from Committee of Visitors to the DMS nicely encapsulates the different scales at which the IMA works. It is microscope and macroscope. There is enormous power in being both at once, and executing on a coherent vision that spans and connects the many levels in between.

  8. Nilima Nigam Mar 30,2015 6:35 pm

    To follow up on Rich Braun’s comment, the open letter in support of the IMA has been signed by over 3400 mathematicians and scientists from 6 continents. This far exceed our expectations.

    The petition was created to communicate to the NSF that the IMA is a valued and vital resource for many of us in the worldwide mathematical sciences community. The show of support has been amazing – the signatories include students and experienced researchers, affiliated with universities, industrial R&D groups and government labs. Over 80 SIAM Fellows, 100 AMS Fellows, and 15 members of the National Academy of Sciences have signed the letter.

    The signatures were delivered to the NSF earlier in March, and an updated version will be delivered in April.

    I personally have benefitted at every stage of my mathematical career from participation at the IMA- as a graduate student, an industrial postdoc, and as a participant in several workshops thereafter. I have sent students there to learn, to establish collaborations and contacts. For several, the IMA experience has been pivotal for their future careers in applied and industrial mathematics. As an individual researcher, I cannot hope to replicate the same breadth, depth and sophistication of the IMA programs for my students.

    Certainly judging from the comments above and the massive show of support from the community, the IMA plays an important role for many. I remain hopeful that it will continue in this role.

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