Canadian Applied and Industrial Math Society (CAIMS) 2017 conference

This year, the Canadian Applied and Industrial Math Society (CAIMS) conference took place in beautiful Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada on July 17–21st. There were around 150 participants, mostly from Canada, but also with a strong international representation, especially from the US. The meeting had five themes: data science, industry, fluids, differential equations, and numerical methods. In addition, there were sessions on collective behaviour and stochastics. 

The conference featured plenary talks by award winners, including winners of prizes for best PhD thesis, the CAIMS/PIMS early-career research prize (for researchers within 10 years of their PhD), the CAIMS/FIELDS Industrial prize, and the CAIMS research prize. The CAIMS research prize was awarded to James J. Feng. In his prize lecture, he discussed collective motion of cells inside a thin channel. A central question is the following: how can unidirectional motion be initiated and maintained in the absence of any chemical gradients or inertia? Feng and his students showed, using direct numerical simulations, that such anisotropic motion can be a result of isotropic cell-to-cell interactions as well as interactions with a channel wall, and is initiated spontaneneously when there is sufficient cell density.

One of the highlights was a public lecture, supported by both CAIMS and AARMS (Atlantic Association for Research in Mathematical Sciences), featuring Chad Topaz, who discussed swarming. It was a very entertaining and lively affair, with public participation in swarming experiements! One of the experiments involved changing the frequency of synchronized clapping by having a select group of participants accelerate the clapping rythm. That particular experiment was judged "inconclusive", so I hope Chad will have a chance to make further such experiments in the future and report the results here! The lecture was very well received, and its was well attended by the public at large, at least judging by the questions at the end, many with a philosophical bent.

One of the largest themes was numerical methods, with over 40 talks, although many of them overlapped significantly with other themes, such as DEs and fluids. 

Dynamical systems had a particularly large presence, and it overlapped with multiple themes of the conference. There were many talks on related topics, such as stability and bifurcation of nonlinear waves, dynamics of fluids, asymptotic methods for PDEs, "classical" dynamical systems, nonlinear PDEs, numerical methods for DEs, reaction–diffusion systems, collective behaviour, and stochastics.

The fluid dynamics sessions focused on two areas: the dynamics of thin fluids and geophysical fluid dynamics. Through these two extreme scales of fluids, the talks discussed a wide range of research methods: laboratory experiments, theoretical analysis, and numerical simulations. The research also ranged from fundamental mathematics of understanding singularities in dynamics to the applied problems of particle separation. The sessions came from a range of universities, with speakers from California, Oxford, Edinburgh, and Western Canada.

It was interesting to note that the industry session was dominated by topics related to data science and statistics. In the past CAIMS conferences, most of the industrial talks revolved around questions of manufacturing. This year, however, while manufacturing was still one of the main themes, there was a clear trend towards talks on data science. While this may be partly a reflection of the organizers' tastes, the trend towards data science is also a reflection of the trends in society as a whole.

To conclude, CAIMS conferences showcase Canada's strengths in applied math. On one hand, it is very diverse and is of interest to a wide range of students and researchers from numerous subdisciplines. On the other hand, it is not so big that one gets lost. Perhaps as a result of its relatively small size, there is a certain cohesiveness and cross-over between the various sessions that is less apparent in bigger conferences such as Snowbird. Next summer, the CAIMS conference will be held in Toronto. I invite all of our international friends to organize a session, and I hope many of you will attend.


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