By Ágata A. Timón
On July 7, the first researchers arrived bright and early at the Palacio Municipal de Congresos in Madrid. One hour later the place was packed, and the conversations in English – and also in Italian and Chinese – were echoing around the marble of the main hall. Approximately 2,300 mathematicians from all over the world descended on Madrid to attend the 10th American Institute of Mathematics (AIMS) Conference on Differential Equations, Dynamical Systems and Applications. In the words of Shouchuan Hu, the director of the conference, on seeing the queues forming at the registration desks: “This tenth meeting is a landmark; the previous most highly attended conference has on this occasion been doubled.”

This is the second-largest mathematical meeting to be held in Spain and the biggest in applications. “It provides the opportunity to underline the fundamental importance of mathematics in science as well as its applications to other sciences and to industry”, said Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CSIC) President, Emilio Lora Tamayo, during the opening ceremony. The CSIC is one of the main organizers of the event, together with the ICMAT, the AIMS, the UAM and the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.

“The main aim is to bring first-rank mathematicians to Madrid and contribute to the internationalization of mathematics in Spain and international relations with the ICMAT,” said Manuel de León, director of the ICMAT and also of the Organizing Committee of the conference, while on the bus taking the participants from the Palacio de Congresos to the ICMAT, where they were invited to a welcoming lunchtime cocktail on the first day of the conference.

Miguel Ángel Garrido, who is studying for a Mathematics degree at the UAM and was one of the volunteers at the conference, decided to devote the first week in July to helping in the organization of the event, because as he said: “You have to respond to the confidence placed in Spain for the organization of a conference of this magnitude. We’ve got to develop and improve Spanish science, and this is a great opportunity to do so.” To say nothing, of course, of the motivation provided by the scientific interest of the event itself, which in Garrido’s case concerns differential equations and probability.

Waves, Van Gogh canvases and solids

There are several indicators that highlight the scientific standing of the event, one of which is the quality of the plenary speakers, who, according to Manuel de León, “have surpassed all previous conferences in the series.” The program speaks for itself: the line-up on the first day included a Fields Medal winner, the Chair of the International Mathematical Union and a mathematics professor from Princeton University.

The first to speak was Charles Fefferman (Princeton University), who devoted his inaugural address to his work on the formation of singularities in incompressible fluids. Fefferman stated that he was “especially happy to be speaking in Madrid, where the work I am about to present is being undertaken in collaboration with ICMAT researchers.”

He was followed by Ingrid Daubechies (Duke University), who described some of her recent contributions to the analysis of works of art, in collaboration with the Van Gogh Museum and also the Prado Museum. Her mathematical approaches have been applied to image processing, in particular the authentication of paintings and their restoration from cracking and the damage caused by the frames used to support them during years of storage. Weinen E. (Princeton University) spoke about the mathematical theory of solids, especially the relation between the fundamental principles (of quantum mechanics) and practical macroscopic models. Mathematics as the driving force of economic development Among the glasses of wine and canapés, and protected from the sun by the large sunshades set out for the event, the guests listened to the words of welcome from Carmen Vela, the Minister for Research, Development and Innovation, and from José Mª Sanz Martínez, Rector of the UAM. Carmen Vela underlined the role played by the ICMAT as a leading research center, the success of which is endorsed by the many grants and competitive funding it has obtained. “Even at a time of great difficulty,” she said, in reference to the Institute, “Spain has managed to conduct science of excellence.” She also pointed out the importance of mathematics to the contribution of welfare and economic development. This has been the central theme of the conference, which provided an extensive program of sessions devoted to the relations of mathematics with other sciences and with industry. While it is just beginning to take off elsewhere, this is a subject that remains to be addressed in Spain. “There are groups devoted to knowledge transfer, and efforts have been made through the Consolider i-Math program”, says León. “However, much remains to be done, because there are only a few groups that are making a real impact in applications to industry. This is a task we have to tackle in the future, because it’s very important for the economy of the country and for opening up now opportunities for young mathematicians.” Even more, mathematics can provide a vital tool for making progress in the great challenges faced in other sciences, such as biology and health, with important implications for society. For example, mathematical techniques have been applied for years to research in cancer treatment and HIV, areas on which special sessions were held during the conference.

Meetings among colleagues

“This conference is enormous,” said a smiling Mats Gyllenberg, expert in biomathematics at the University of Helsinki. “There are about three thousand people here and so many talks and sessions and it’s impossible to attend all of them. I’d say that the social side is the most important part; meeting up with old friends again and speaking about mathematics.” Gyllenberg led a session on population dynamics with applications to ecology and evolution by natural selection. In the bright cafeteria in the main quadrangle of the UAM, after the highly attended talk by Fields Medal winner Cèdric Villani, Gyllenberg went on to say that “I’ve also been working on physiological models such as those on respiration and snoring, as well as on microbiological applications to the growth of bacteria and their classification.”

In this more social aspect, one of the great events at the conference was the gala dinner held on Wednesday, July 9. At 8:00 p.m., the buses left the Plaza de España in the center of Madrid and the different hotels where the 2,300 people who came to the conference were staying. Some 700 of them attended the dinner, which was held at the Casa de Mónico in Madrid. After an apéritif in the patio of the enclosure, the meal was served in the dining rooms inside. On conclusion of the second course, AIMS director Shouchuan Hu gave a speech to the assembled guests, in which he took the opportunity to thank all who had helped to make the conference a success, among them the local organizers led by Manuel de León.

Furthermore, the AIMS for the first time awarded prizes for the best scientific articles by students. First Prize was awarded to Anton Savostianov, a doctoral student at the University of Surrey (UK), where he belongs to a group working on the analysis of partial differential equations under the supervision of Sergey Zelik. Second Prize and the two Honorable Mentions went to Andrei Tarfulea (Princeton University) and to Bao Tang and Piotr Kamienski, respectively.

Impact journals

In parallel with this busy conference program, a meeting of the editors of the AIMS journals was held at the ICMAT. 65 editors debated different aspects of their publications, and all were of the opinion of the need to carry out a quantitative and qualitative study of the quality of the journals, to improve contacts with authors and the mathematical community in general, and to adapt to the new recommendations regarding Open Access. The AIMS currently publishes 16 titles devoted to mathematical research, with significant impact factors on the Web of Science Journal Citation Reports. ICMAT director Manuel de Léon is a founder of the Journal of Geometry and Mechanics (which occupies second place in impact among the 16 journals) and has been an editorial director since it first appeared in 2008.

Further subjects of interest are Open Access, the positioning of the AIMS and its journals, and the need to follow the recommendations of both the International mathematical Union (IMU) and the International Council for Science (ICSU) on best editorial practice and universal access to scientific literature. This debate will continue over the next two years, culminating in the next AIMS conference, to be held in the United States in 2016.

Ágata A. Timón


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