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Attention, industry: Got a problem? Call on UB mathematicians

University at Buffalo Mathematics Building. Credit: University at Buffalo

Release Date: December 22, 2015

“Today’s mathematicians have career options beyond just academia.”
Bill Menasco, professor and director of graduate studies in mathematics
University at Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. — University at Buffalo mathematicians have received a $600,000 National Science Foundation grant to support an innovative collaboration between their department and companies in banking, security, aerospace technology and other fields.

For each of the next three years, six UB math PhD candidates will participate in a yearlong training program that culminates in a summer internship working on-site with a partner in industry or academia.

Firms that have already signed up to participate include:

  • IBM Buffalo Innovation Center
  • M&T Bank
  • Moog Inc.
  • SecureRF Corporation

The UB School of Management will also be a partner, enlisting the math department’s help in researching topics that could include optimizing the way cloud service providers deploy computing resources and design availability-aware service contracts for customers.

The NSF-funded collaboration is called, “Experiential Diversity in Graduate Education (EDGE@UB).” It kicks off in fall 2016.

Students will benefit by getting the chance to work on “real industry problems,” says David Hemmer, chair of the Department of Mathematics in UB’s College of Arts and Sciences. This could include analyzing how homeowners pay off home equity loans, or studying the math that governs mission-critical hardware in flight control systems.

“Today’s mathematicians have career options beyond just academia,” says Bill Menasco, professor and director of graduate studies in mathematics. “This program helps us prepare our students by building up our department’s institutional knowledge of what problems industry is facing.”

“Even for a pure mathematician who is planning to work in academia, I think it’s beneficial to learn and see how people out in the world are using what they know to generate business or improve people’s lives,” Hemmer says.

For industry, the partnership is a chance to tap into UB’s math expertise.

“Sometimes a company will have a problem they want to solve, but they don’t even know what kind of math they need to work with. Is it geometry? Is it differential equations?” Menasco says. “That’s where coming to a comprehensive math department like the one we have at UB can be helpful.”

Menasco is leading the program with support from four fellow math faculty members: Hemmer; associate professor and undergraduate studies director Bernard Badzioch; assistant professor Joseph Hundley; and associate professor John Ringland.

The grant for EDGE@UB is from the NSF’s Enriched Doctoral Training in the Mathematical Sciences (EDT) program, which aims to “strengthen the nation's scientific competitiveness by increasing the number of well-prepared U.S. citizens, nationals and permanent residents who pursue careers in the mathematical sciences and in other professions in which expertise in the mathematical sciences plays an increasingly important role.”

UB is only the fourth institution to be funded through the EDT program, according to the NSF awards website. The others are Princeton University, the University of Texas at Dallas and the University of Minnesota.

The grant supports PhD student training (which includes bringing in instructors from industry); a winter session boot camp focused on learning mathematical tools useful to solving industry problems; release time from teaching assistant duties; and the internships for all 18 students who will participate over the course of three years.

“We mathematicians have a lot going on in our heads, but it turns out that these days, it’s hard to do math without finding an application for it,” Menasco says. “Whether you’re working in geometry or topology or knot theory, there are real-world uses for it.”

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