UIC, partners team up for $15.5M NSF-funded math institute

Mathematicians and statisticians from the University of Illinois at Chicago will join a collaborative group of researchers representing three other leading research universities in Illinois as part of the new Institute for Mathematical and Statistical Innovation.

Funded with a five-year, $15.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation, or NSF, the University of Chicago-based institute aims to bring powerful mathematical ideas to bear on key contemporary scientific and technological challenges, while enriching scientific research and workforce development in Chicago and the state of Illinois.

The researchers from UIC, UChicago, Northwestern University, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will build a program that accelerates the translation of applied mathematical and statistical techniques into solutions for urgent scientific and societal problems. Many of these problems arise naturally in a range of fields already being studied across the four partner institutions, including climate change, health care, quantum information theory, artificial intelligence, data science, economics, and materials science.

Brooke Shipley
Brooke Shipley, UIC professor and head of mathematics, statistics and computer science and co-principal investigator of the grant.

“UIC mathematicians and statisticians are excited to be involved with IMSI in building new research collaborations and industry partnerships to work on these urgent problems while also enhancing workforce development in the region,” said Brooke Shipley, UIC professor and head of mathematics, statistics, and computer science and co-principal investigator of the grant. 

Shipley noted that expanded internship opportunities for graduate students is another benefit of the partnership.

The Institute for Mathematical and Statistical Innovation will serve as a national platform for research, outreach, and workforce development to train the next generation of researchers in mathematics and statistics, and bring together researchers from across the nation and around the globe. 

The sponsoring institutions are home to well-established intellectual and institutional resources in mathematics, statistics, and many other fields, in addition to existing network of centers and research groups, and institutional partnerships with national laboratories and corporate partners.

Scientific activity at the institute will include workshops and long programs, typically 10 weeks in length. Research activity will be organized around themes that will evolve over time, with an initial focus on data and information, climate science, health care, material science, quantum computing and information, and uncertainty quantification.

There will also be a sustained focus on communication with researchers in other fields, and in educating the public about the broad utility of mathematics and statistics to everyday problems and social issues.

The institute will sponsor outreach and workforce development programs aimed at K-12 students, teachers, undergraduates, and graduate students to introduce participants to career opportunities in mathematics and statistics, especially those from communities traditionally underrepresented in the sciences.

“The influence of mathematical sciences on our daily lives is all around us and far-reaching,” said Juan C. Meza, division director of mathematical sciences at the NSF. “This program represents an investment in interdisciplinary connections across fields of science, and with impacts across sectors like computing, engineering, and health.”

UIC will play a key role in the institute’s mission to increase diversity in the mathematical sciences. Through an expansion of UChicago’s Young Scholars Program, UIC will host a summer program for middle school and high school students beginning in 2021. 

“This expansion of the Young Scholars Program at UIC will focus on excellence and inclusion and it will allow many more students from schools throughout Chicago to participate,” Shipley said.  

According to the institute’s affiliated researchers, recent advances in applied science and technology are challenging available models and paradigms developed by mathematicians and statisticians, providing a fertile ground for the discovery of new applied mathematical techniques and discoveries that have immediate applications to key modern applied scientific questions and rapidly developing fields, such as data science, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.

Yichao Wu
Yichao Wu, TransUnion Professor at UIC. Photo: Joshua Clark

“There are many ways in which the mathematical sciences can help us come to grips with the massive growth in the amount of available data describing complex systems, as well as with the complex uses of computing now used to extract meaning from these data that may be leaving their mathematical and theoretical foundations behind,” said Kevin Corlette, professor of mathematics at UChicago and inaugural director of the institute. “These include methods for evaluating the quality of data sets, simplification of models to improve their predictive power and their ability to provide insight into underlying principles, and new approaches to estimating the uncertainty of results predicted by models.”

The institute’s associate director position will rotate among the four institutions with data scientist Yichao Wu, TransUnion Professor at UIC and director of multidisciplinary research in data science in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, slated to serve in that role from 2022 to 2024.

The NSF supports six other mathematical sciences institutes to advance research in the mathematical sciences, increase the impact of the mathematical sciences in other disciplines, and expand the talent base engaged in mathematical research in the United States.

These are: American Institute of Mathematics Research Conference Center (AIM) in San Jose, California; Institute for Computational and Experimental Research in Mathematics (ICERM) at Brown University; Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics (IPAM) at the University of California-Los Angeles; Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI) at Berkeley, California; the Statistical and Applied Mathematical Sciences Institute (SAMSI) in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina; and a partnership with the  Institute For Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton.

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