CSE23: the role of mathematics in tackling world problems

TU/e and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) are jointly organizing one of the largest mathematics conferences in the world: CSE23. From February 26 through March 3, the RAI in Amsterdam will welcome as many as 2,200 mathematicians from all over the world who will be discussing the application of mathematical models in industry and science. On Wednesday evening, March 1, there will be a freely accessible program for a wide audience devoted to the role of mathematics in solving major world problems.

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SIAM, the largest organization for applied mathematics in the world, organizes the Conference on Computational Science and Engineering (CSE) every two years. However, in 2021, the conference was exclusively held in virtual format due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Therefore, it was high time to once again bring the world’s best scientist together, according to the organizer. This year, the CSE is held in the Netherlands and TU/e is proud to host this edition together with SIAM. Understandably so, because not only is this the first time the CSE conference is taking place outside the US; it is also the largest edition to date and the largest mathematics conference in the Netherlands ever.


“If we do something, we want to do it very right”, says Wil Schilders, organizer of CSE23 and TU/e professor of Scientific Computing. Great thought was given on how to involve not only the best scientists, but also talented students and leading companies in the event. For example, on February 25 and 26, a hackathon took place at the Van der Valk Amstel hotel in Amsterdam. 150 mathematics students from both the Netherlands and abroad spent the entire weekend working on challenges in the business world, which were presented by Amazon, ASML and Siemens, among others. The five-person teams stayed up all night working on inventive solutions, and on Sunday, the winning team was announced and took home their prize of 5,000 euros.

Mathematics is like oxygen

In order to engage the wider public in the event as well, there will be a public evening on March 1. That evening, six scientists will give accessible, TED talk-style lectures to demonstrate how mathematical models can be used to solve major world problems. Even in areas where you might not expect it, like the climate crisis or energy transition. “We also want to show 'normal people' what mathematics is and what you can do with it. People often have no idea what mathematicians do”, says Schilders. “But math is everywhere.” Schilders points to the quote by Dutch mathematician Lex Schrijver on the front cover of a book sitting on his desk: “Mathematics is like oxygen. If it is there, you do not notice it. If it would not be there, you realize that you cannot do without.”


Mathematicians are also often overlooked by other scientists. “Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Biomedical Engineering - all of them require mathematics”, says Schilders. However, people don’t always bring in mathematicians in those fields.

According to Schilders, that is not an optimal choice, since mathematicians possess insight into efficient methods and the latest developments. “I also wouldn’t dream of creating my own chemistry models; I’d want a chemist there. If we start cooperating with each other more, we will get much further.”

From smoothies to the universe

The wide range of applications that mathematics has to offer will be demonstrated during the public evening where six scientists will talk about its role in solving a variety of world problems. Among them is Caoimhe Rooney, an Irish scientist working at NASA, who will illustrate how we can use mathematics to study complex physical processes, from splitting fruit particles for a perfect smoothie to figuring out exactly how the universe came to be. Also among the speakers is Bert Zwart, professor of Mathematics and Computer Science at TU/e, who will demonstrate how mathematical models can contribute to the development of sustainable energy systems. Mathematics truly is everywhere, as will be shown this evening. 

The public evening will take place on Wednesday, March 1, starting at 8 p.m. at the RAI in Amsterdam. Admission is free and no registration is required. Please visit the SIAM website for more information.

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