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college of science and engineering

Retrospect IMA brings math to life for 30 years Celebrating 30 years, the IMA connects scientists, engineers, and mathematicians to develop transformative, new mathematics.


n response to the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) request for proposals to establish “a mathematical sciences research institute,” the Institute for Mathematics and its Applications (IMA) opened its doors in the fall of 1982. At the time, its founders Hans Weinberger, now professor emeritus in the School of Mathematics, Willard Miller, then School of Mathematics head and former IMA director, and George Sell, professor of mathematics and IMA associate director, envisioned a bold mathematics institute that would run counter to the prevailing trends in mathematical research. They proposed a visitors’ institute where mathematics focused on problems arising from other disciplines and from industry. Arguing that such an effort would lead not only to increasing the impact of mathematics on other fields, but also to an enrichment of mathematical research. This initial vision was realized and continues to this day.

Breaking down “silos” and crossing disciplines Sell recalls that “the proposal resonated with the mathematical sciences community who felt mathematics, as an academic discipline, was becoming ‘siloed’ into sub-areas that did not talk to each other, let alone to the world outside.” Since the institute’s creation—a direct result of

IMA poster for 2012-13

Variations on a theme


From September to June each year, the IMA focuses its programs and activities on a central theme. Involving more than 1,000 participants, the IMA draws a large and diverse community of visitors from academia, industry, and government. The themes are broad and timely and aim to advance mathematical research, generate new opportunities, and create lasting impacts on various application areas.


the NSF competition—the IMA has successfully renewed its funding numerous times. The IMA’s current award, which runs through 2015, stands among the highest funded math projects in NSF’s history. As a visitors’ institute, researchers with common interests from across disciplines gather at the IMA to collaborate on topics related to an annual theme. Each year’s focus is always on an important area of applied research where mathematics is poised to make a difference or in a subarea of mathematics and its diverse applications. As a result, many thriving research communities are launched by these innovative annual programs. The IMA’s 1982 thematic program was the first of several to focus on the mathematics of materials science. Today, the IMA is widely credited for its major role in helping to develop this field. “The IMA’s activity in the mathematics of materials, has had a huge impact, by nucleating then nurturing what has become a vibrant scientific community,” said Robert Kohn, professor of Mathematics at New York University.

Transforming the world through mathematics The IMA has held 31 annual thematic programs since 1982, and attracts nearly 1,200 visitors each year. “Thanks to the visionary leadership of Avner Friedman (1988–1998), Miller (1998–2001), and Doug Arnold (2001–2008), the IMA has become one of the most influential mathematical sciences institutes in the world,” said Fadil Santosa, current IMA director. “The IMA impacts mathematicians from undergraduate to ‘grave,’ and researchers from computer science to environmental science, from social sciences to engineering fields, and from biology to informatics,” Arnold said. The annual Public Lecture series, given by prominent mathematical scientists, now reaches

Inventing Tomorrow, Fall/Winter 2012 (vol 37 no 1)  

University students mentor First robotics team. Faculty are transforming the college classroom. The "Greatest Generation" share tales of WWI...

Inventing Tomorrow, Fall/Winter 2012 (vol 37 no 1)  

University students mentor First robotics team. Faculty are transforming the college classroom. The "Greatest Generation" share tales of WWI...