Reaching critical maths

What’s the collective noun for mathematicians? A set? A group? A matrix? A number? Whatever it is, Callaghan Innovation National Technology Network Manager- ICT Jonathan Miller discovered it is something to behold, at the week-long inaugural Maths in Industry NZ workshop earlier this month.

Around 100 of New Zealand’s sharpest mathematical minds converged on Auckland last week to try and provide solutions for 6 challenges laid down by 6 New Zealand companies. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when maths meets industry: would they even understand each other? It turns out they do… mostly.

On Monday the companies outlined their challenges.

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Jonathan Miller

Fisher & Paykel engineers were seeking a solution to optimize clothes dryer operation. They even brought a dryer along.

Compac Sorting wanted to solve an important calibration issue with spectroscopic systems.

Eyedentify, a crime prevention software start-up, came armed with data sets, and wanted to explore ways to improve on their crime prevention algorithms.

Fonterra, Transpower and LIC also presented interesting challenges.

And on the other side of the equation there was everyone from statisticians to computational modelling gurus and they came from universities and research organisations from around New Zealand, with a smattering from overseas. Our man Philip Zhang flew the flag for Callaghan Innovation’s research and technical services group.

Then the magic happened. The mathematicians broke up into teams around each of the six industry problems, and went to work for the next three days, to try and come up with solutions. By the end, there wasn’t a white-board on the campus that wasn’t covered in equations.

On Friday, the teams reported back. In each case the teams reported exciting progress and discoveries, and in each case some valuable ideas were presented back. More work will be required to complete the solutions, but the companies are already discussing follow on projects with the mathematicians.

I thought it was an outstanding event that demonstrates the potential for deep thinking researchers to have an impact on business. As Eyedentify put it: how else could a start-up get access to this kind brain power?

Well done to the Centre for Maths in Industry, at Massey University (especially Prof Graeme Wake) and Kiwinet for running this event, and let’s see it happen again soon.

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About Callaghan Innovation

Business. Technology. Success.
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