NSF funds undergraduate research projects
ASU’s computational mathematical sciences program in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences will power a new set of undergraduate research projects beginning in January with a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation.
The program, targeting juniors majoring in computational mathematical sciences, initially will offer interdisciplinary research experiences involving weather and climate forecasting, environmental fluid dynamics, math biology applications, and the efficiency of complex supply chain models.
ASU is one of 11 U.S. institutions that have an undergraduate computational mathematics program. Professor Eric Kostelich, the grant’s principal investigator, says this five-year grant is designed to prepare undergraduate students for graduate research and full-time jobs.
He notes that the Phoenix metropolitan area is a growing technology market, with companies like Intel, Freescale Semiconductor and Honeywell, and that the grant program anticipates establishing a pipeline so students who graduate are prepared for full-time work and internship opportunities.
“I’m hoping this grant will also help Arizona in terms of its competitiveness in the technology field,” he says.
At the same time, the grant will reinforce the department of mathematics and statistics’ strong interdisciplinary focus through research opportunities that combine computational mathematics with science.
“Today, mathematics is deviating from the traditional and moving toward an interdisciplinary approach,” says associate professor Bruno Welfert, the grant’s co-principal investigator. “By combining math and the physical or life sciences, students are able to tackle a problem from different angles. The goal of this program is for students to have two one-year sequences in some physical or life science that can be applied to their research.”
“Cutting-edge applications are very collaborative,” Kostelich adds. “If you look, for example, at how to make an MRI machine better, you have to use physics, computer science and engineering – all different disciplines working together to make one machine. With our interdisciplinary curriculum, students can answer questions to common problems and create better applications.”
In the second year of their project, students will continue their research studies as well as mentor incoming students. Each student is expected to write an honors thesis or research paper and present his or her work at an appropriate conference.
“Part of the idea is to combine all aspects of coursework into an integrated environment where students are going to feel comfortable using ideas from mathematics, computer science and science, and have the opportunity to apply those ideas during two summer sessions with faculty,” Welfert says.
That integrated environment will include an open office space area where students can interact and share ideas while working on their research, Kostelich adds.
They also will take advantage of ASU’s tremendous resources, such as the Fulton High Performance Computing Initiative, which offers world-class computing resources to the researchers and students in the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering, and the Decision Theater, a high-tech laboratory that combines advanced methodologies in visualization, simulation and cognitive sciences.
“The Fulton High Performance Computing Initiative is not what you find at a typical four-year university,” Kostelich says. “It is a lasting legacy that provides us with an opportunity to think creatively on how we might use this remarkable gift. We want to show the country the ‘new math degree,’ taking traditional ideas from 50 years ago and leveraging them with new developments, sciences, and applications of mathematics developed in recent decades, showing students first-hand how they are applied.”
Adds Welfert: “Mathematics students will always be in demand because of their background and training. That is something important to note. With a math degree, you can do anything you want.”
Erica Velasco, firstname.lastname@example.org