Getting to know the community
I joined EPSRC in 2008 and, after numerous roles across the organisation, I was delighted to be appointed Head of Mathematical Sciences in January of this year. Despite my previous experience I have been, and continue to be, on a steep learning curve getting to know the intricacies of the mathematical sciences portfolio and hearing the views of the community.
I have hit the ground running and have been working closely with my Strategic Advisory Team and undertaking university visits to better understand the current UK landscape for mathematical sciences: who are the key players in the field? How does the standard of mathematics research in the UK compare internationally? For me, this knowledge is essential as we work to develop a robust strategy for the future.
A fundamental science
Mathematical sciences research reaches well beyond the remit of the engineering and physical sciences and this is one of its key strengths as we transition to UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).
The main thing that stands out from my interactions with the community so far is the breadth of mathematical sciences research. While parts of the portfolio are applied with a clear route to impact, others are full of curiosity driven research where there's no way of knowing the impact it might have. I have been told to
Expect the Unexpected and, the more I learn about the diversity of the portfolio, the more I see where mathematics research has resulted in huge shifts in other research areas. For example...
Mathematics in image processing
Researchers in the Department of Mathematics at Swansea University have developed novel geometric methods for image processing, feature extraction and shape interrogation. The research has delivered commercial and clinical impact in a variety of settings, ranging from new water marking techniques to improve piracy detection in the film industry, to medical research investigating the replacement of traditional CT scans with safer MRI scans. The research has also delivered an automatic feature and gap detection tool that has been successfully applied to aircraft data files provided by BAE Systems. A consultancy company is exploiting the methods and a licence for the commercialisation of the technology is in process.
Mathematical modelling in predicting pandemics
Researchers in the Epidemiology Group at the University of Warwick have an international reputation for high-quality mathematical modelling of human infectious diseases, with particular emphasis on population heterogeneity and variability. Such formulations and insights are an important component of predictive modelling performed by Public Health England (PHE), and are helping to shape national policy for a range of vaccine-preventable infections.
The Warwick Group was instrumental in providing a range of real-time analysis and advice to UK authorities during the 2009 H1N1 (swine-flu) pandemic, acknowledged by the Department of Health (DoH) to be 'fundamental to the construction of the UK's pandemic response' and making an important contribution to the overall programme which 'led to the saving of many hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers money, while greatly increasing the health of the Nation'. Modelling and analysis carried out at Warwick continue to provide insight into the control and containment of future pandemics and are considered 'essential in determining UK pandemic policy'.
A promising future
Almost four months into my new role, I can safely say that I have gained a much greater appreciation of mathematical sciences research and its impact on other research areas but I recognise that there is more that can be done to raise awareness of the value of mathematical sciences research and the contribution it can make to the global economy.
For now, I am continuing on my quest to learn more and to work with the community to develop strategy with my main priority being to ensure that the UK remains at the forefront of mathematical sciences research globally.