Euro-Asian Study Group,
04-08 October, 2010 Trabzon, Turkey
Study groups, initiated originally by a group of researchers at Oxford University, are held regularly around the world with the aim of developing new mathematical models, or enhancing the existing ones to better suit the needs of industry. To this end, groups of academics, who feel confident in applying mathematics to real-world problems, and industry representatives get together and work on problems posed by the firms during a week; this week is announced usually at the so-called international study group website(www.maths-in-industry.org).
Such a collaborative work usually begins in Monday morning with problem presentations by the firm members to an audience of mostly applied mathematians, followed by study groups formed around problems of relevant interest. People feel free to chose the problem they would like to work on, but are not required to stick with the problem they have begun with.
Study groups attract people of diverse interests and backgrounds around a problem and provide in return many benefits to the participants:
The firm representatives have at least a better clue for the solution of their problem, if not the partial or better solution. This will give the opportunity for future collaboration and expectation for mutual benefit.
The senior academics who feel the heaviest burden find themselves often in a state to seek help from the young researchers of relevant subjects, thus enabling a frank but cordial discussion environment far from the rank-associated barriers that often exist in academic environments. The winners in this environment are surely the young researchers, who attack a problem posed by a firm; this itself is a major step in their otherwise theoretically-oriented reseach path. What can make a young researcher happier in the world of mathematics than the ideas that receive credit from their senior masters!
I guess the triumph of study groups lies in the humble discussion environment created by the senior members of the study groups just before the beginning of the discussion groups. Who feels to be ashamed of producing a stupid idea or an answer while they all are generously being classified under the so-called “colemanballs”? (“If I remember rightly…” http://people.maths.ox.ac.uk/~howison/balls.pdf) Who would be affaid of expressing his/her ideas when someone says “Give me an idea(or say a parameter), I do not care what it is, I will use it.” Maybe this style could be extended down (or up) to our regular lecture rooms or classrooms as well. Wouldn’t this allow for a better learning “room” than is traditional?
On the other hand, Study groups are places that you always remind you of the saying that there is no such thing as a free meal. Get around in a warm place with people of varying fames and abilities in a rather humble discussion environment and produce nothing but colemanballs... I wish life would be that easy, but it obviously is not. There is the firm representative coming in and out of discussion room and asking to see if you have made progress! Or rather to see if there is any progress at all; the worst to see is misfocused group not knowing what to do or feeling in love with any colemanball version of any idea. Oh my God, what in the hell brought them all together…
There are dedicated members of discussion rooms, staying in the room no matter how hopeless they are of any forseeable solution. But at least they try to the end, putting to work what they have accumulated in their math life time. There is no word for them. But there is another group wandering around the rooms trying to understand each problem while a little progress is already underway, so partially if not willingly, ruining the solution or bettering the peaceful study group process. Should the workers give him/her a credit and change their way of thought or not? Would it not be better if each group gathers around a naturally emerged group leader and follow his/her advices. The group leader must be responsible for the direction in which a solution is being sought.
The hardest part, as always, is the modelling part. There you always have a problem, and obviously there are some models around that already met with dissatisfaction by the participating firms. You are asked to modify an existing model or come up with a completely new one. What is wrong with the one being used? Maybe it is the identification of what is important or not, or that the problem is associated with a new technology, or that it originated from having to do the best with the least effort, time, energy or so on. Here comes in the experience of senior researchers and thus the training part for the young participants. Every minute of it should be paid a great attention to. You will see how gravity loses its power at the fingers and words of such expertise. That is the part I myself enjoy the most about the study groups.
Next to hardest is actually not so hard. Once you have a model, everyone in the group will have an idea of how to handle it, be it a nondimensionalization or a suitable similarity transform or an asymptotic techique with or without matching with even a free boundary, numerics and so on. But then you will produce a graph or numbers that are supposed to make sense. It is actuallly the modelling part that will make it easy or hard to interprate what you have. I think you all will agree with me that it is easier to detect the wrong results of a correct model than the correct results of a wrong one.
Now comes the Friday morning, perhaps just when you wanted to work a little more to see if you could get anything further. Or, maybe it is good enough for the time being. Relax and see what the other groups also have come up with on seemingly horrible looking problems. Once solved or partially solved every problem looks so easy, is it not right?
I do hope to see you in the one to be held at Karadeniz Technical University, Trabzon. (Follow the link above for the problems to be discussed and the experts who will participate in the event as well as social programs we hope you will enjoy).
Dr. Erhan Coskun
Department of Mathematics, Karadeniz Technical University, TR-61080, Trabzon, Turkey