SIAM News Blog

Reflecting on the Third Annual Meeting of the SIAM TX-LA Section

By Stephen Shipman

The 3rd Annual Meeting of the SIAM Texas-Louisiana Section took place via video conferencing from October 16 to 18, 2020. It was hosted by the Department of Mathematics at Texas A&M University (TAMU). The conference featured plenary lectures, minisymposia, poster sessions, and career panels. It was an engaging, interesting, and lively event and a resounding success by all measures.

The meeting attracted 550 participants: 440 people from the U.S. and 110 others from six continents. Of the 94 percent of participants who identified their professional capacity, students comprised an unusually large portion at 43.2 percent (36 percent graduate and 7.2 percent undergraduate). The remainder of the breakdown is as follows: Academic faculty made up 44 percent of the attendees, postdocs clocked in at 9.5 percent, professionals from industry amounted to 2.3 percent, and national laboratories came in at 1 percent.

Four plenary lectures, one of which was public, occurred throughout the three-day meeting. Richard Baraniuk, the Victor E. Cameron Professor in Engineering at Rice University and founder and director of OpenStax, delivered the public lecture. Baraniuk is a fellow of several distinguished professional organizations, such as the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and National Academy of Inventors; has won many awards, including the IEEE Signal Processing Society Technical Achievement Award and the IEEE James H. Mulligan, Jr. Education Medal; and holds 39 patents. He is also very highly cited — his 2007 lecture notes on compressive sensing have amassed 5,200 citations to date. Baraniuk’s presentation, entitled "Going Off the Deep End with Deep Learning," engendered an energetic response from the audience and a series of interesting questions, answers, and discussion.

Graeme Milton, a distinguished professor of mathematics at the University of Utah, gave the first research lecture. Milton is a world-renowned expert on composite materials and author of The Theory of Composites. He is known for his uncanny ingenuity in the design of metamaterials that possess exotic and often perplexing properties. His research involves network response, superlensing, inter-frequency correlation, cloaking, inverse problems, and extension of the ideas of composites to other areas of science. Milton’s 2017 work with Martin Wegener produced the first Hall-coefficient reversal material, which was featured in Nature Reviews and Physics Today. His lecture at the conference was entitled "Untangling in Time: Designing Time Varying Applied Fields to Reveal Interior Structure." It contained live demonstrations, including the damping of oscillations in a glass of water due to bubbles.

Xiao-Hui Wu, a researcher at ExxonMobil Upstream Integrated Solutions Company, delivered the second research lecture. His company provides technical and specialized commercial research, technology, and expertise in areas such as drilling, gas and power market optimization, and the global deployment of resources. Wu spoke about "Decision Support under Subsurface Uncertainty."

Thaleia Zariphopoulou, who is Presidential Chair in Mathematics and V.F. Neuhaus Centennial Professor at the University of Texas at Austin, presented the final research lecture.  Zariphopoulou is also a professor in the Department of Information, Risk, and Operations Management at UT Austin, prior to which she served as Oxford-Man Professor of Quantitative Finance at the University of Oxford. She specializes in financial mathematics, stochastic optimization, and quantitative finance, and her lecture was entitled "'Real-time' Optimization under Forward Rank-dependent Processes: Time-consistent Optimality under Probability Distortions."

30 minisymposia—which encompassed 220 talks—took place with multiple sessions that featured topics across the spectrum of applied mathematics: nonlinear and linear partial differential equations, stochastic analysis, optimization, numerical methods, dynamical systems, composite materials, machine learning, imaging, mathematical physics, networks, biology, and algebraic geometry. Each two-hour session comprised four presentations and concluded with breakout rooms in which participants carried on discussions.

Several career panels benefited students who are aspiring to begin a career as a mathematician in academia, industry, or at a national laboratory. Panelists from academia consisted of Edriss Titi (TAMU), Yuliya Gorb (University of Houston), and Jon Hauenstein (University of Notre Dame); national lab representatives were Katherine Evans (Oak Ridge National Laboratory), Stefan Wild (Argonne National Laboratory), and Kjiersten Fagna (Department of Energy); and industry speakers included Boris Hanin (Princeton University), Zahra Khatami (Oracle), Audrey Addison (Google), and Sonny Skaaning (The Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation). Frank Sottile, Mansi Bezbaruah, and Kari Eifler (all of TAMU) acted as moderators. The discussions began with a half-hour general panel that addressed all three career opportunities (academia, industry, and national laboratories). This introduction was followed by two half-hour panels with concurrent sessions that specialized in each of the three career paths.

Conference participants presented 28 e-posters during an afternoon and evening session in Zoom breakout rooms. Presenters conversed with interested persons by video while screen-sharing their posters. The e-poster sessions were well attended and transpired without a hitch; some presenters also submitted two-minute videos that introduced attendees to the work featured in their posters. Three presenters received prizes for outstanding e-poster. First prize went to Riley Juenemann, an undergraduate student at Tulane University, for her poster on "A First-pass Statistical Dashboard for Categorizing Diverse Particle Movement Patterns." Second prize went to Chuning Wang, a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, for her poster on "Direct Serendipity and Mixed Finite Elements on Quadrilaterals." And third prize went to Preston Ward, a graduate student at Tarleton State University, for his poster on "Transit Time Compactness." Two prizes for outstanding video were also awarded. First prize went to Sofia Escobar, an undergraduate student at Rice University, for her presentation on "Effects of Convolution Dimension for Medical Image Segmentation," and second prize went to Geoffrey Woollard, a student at the University of Toronto, for his presentation on "Seeing Living Atoms, One Electron at a Time: The Expectation-maximization Algorithm with Poisson Statistics for Analyzing Counting Frames of Direct Electron Detectors in Electron Cryomicroscopy."

The conference organizing committee consisted of a local TAMU group, the SIAM TX-LA Section officers, and the section's district liaisons; the local committee was comprised of Andrea Bonito, Jean-Luc Guermond, Peter Kuchment, Matthias Maier, and Frank Sottile. The committee credits Andrea Bonito with the heroic feat of engineering the conference and ensuring its smooth operation. The following entities sponsored the Third Annual Meeting of the SIAM TX-LA Section: SIAM, the Institute for Mathematics and its Applications, the Institute for Applied Mathematics and Computational Science at TAMU, and TAMU’s College of Science and Department of Mathematics.

More information, including recordings of the plenary lectures, is available on the conference website.

Stephen Shipman is a mathematics professor at Louisiana State University who works in mathematical physics and spectral theory.

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