Conference to explore how math, statistics can address urgent global problems

IMSI invites researchers to examine tools that can improve models, spark collaboration

Mathematical models are important tools for understanding the behavior of complex systems. For example, in order to predict the growing consequences of climate change, researchers build computational models that can suggest the rise in sea levels in 100 years or project the intensity of droughts and storms. But because the climate is such a complex system—spanning geographical and time scales—trying to create such models can exceed the limits of computational power and make reliable predictions difficult.

Launched earlier this year, the new Institute for Mathematical and Statistical Innovation at the University of Chicago will address these kinds of pressing global challenges. At the institute’s opening conference on Oct. 7-9, researchers will discuss how they can apply mathematical and statistical ideas to scientific and societal problems like climate change.

“The opening conference will bring members of the mathematical science community from across the globe together to illuminate the field’s connection to urgent problems we’re facing as a society,” said Kevin Corlette, director of IMSI and professor of mathematics at UChicago. “We want to generate intellectual activity around these issues, as well as conversations and collaborations.”

In addition to climate change, the institute aims to apply its expertise around scientific themes that involve vast and complex amounts of data, including health care and medicine, materials science, quantum computing and information, and uncertainty quantification.

“Sometimes there is a language barrier between mathematicians and scientists in other fields,” said Takis Souganidis, the Charles H. Swift Distinguished Professor of Mathematics and member of the Committee on Computational and Applied Mathematics. “The purpose of the institute and this conference is to try to bridge that gap and bring together people who believe there is room for mathematics and statistics to help them address issues in their fields.”

The institute’s health care theme, for example, bridges the fields of computer science, engineering, statistics and medicine. Scientists use statistical and mathematical approaches to optimize the delivery of health care, use AI to create an early warning system to predict the onset of disease, build models to understand how cancer will spread or improve medical imaging.

IMSI’s opening conference embodies this cross-disciplinary approach. The speaker lineup represents a wide range of fields—from atmospheric science to computation to business and mathematics. Topics include distributed systems and mean field games; the application of data science and financial engineering to curing cancer; artificial intelligence; and quantum computational supremacy. 

Through the rest of this year, IMSI will host workshops dedicated to exploring each of its scientific themes, including a COVID-19 workshop in late October that will bring together biomedical experts, epidemiologists, public health officials, economists, business professionals and bioethicists. IMSI is also accepting proposals for quarter-long programs, in which interdisciplinary groups of researchers will explore questions relevant to these unique challenges.

“We hope the talks at IMSI’s opening conference spark ideas for long programs or future workshops,” Corlette said. “We want our audience to walk away with something to think about—a question or problem that stretches them in a new direction.”

The institute comprises a collaborative group of mathematicians and statisticians from UChicago, Northwestern, the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Registration for the opening conference is open to anyone interested in exploring the institute’s focus areas.