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Mathematics in Industry

Mathematics in Industry.(Click here to see involved faculty) Claremont is known world-wide for its Math Clinic program which has been operating since 1973. The Mathematics Clinic Program offers students and faculty an opportunity to develop, on campus, the modeling and analysis tools necessary to solve real-world problems under conditions approximating an industrial setting. The Clinic concept originated at the HMC Engineering department in the late 1960’s. This was followed a few years later by Mathematics Clinics at the HMC and CGU Mathematics Departments, and in the 1990’s by Computer Clinic programs in the HMC Computer Science and Physics departments. Each Clinic project is a year-long course whose subject matter is an unsolved problem that arises in industry, business, or government. To make the Clinic program both a feasible and realistic experience, problems are considered only if the sponsor provides some expert in-house consulting, and pays a fee to share the cost of the program. In return, the college, in a legal agreement with the sponsor, promises the performance of a certain amount of work on the problem and delivery of professional-level written and oral reports. These contractual commitments and the direct interest of the industrial consultant add to the realism of the experience for both students and supervising faculty. For more on the math clinic program, visit the Mathematics Clinic website.

CCMS will not compete with the long-established Math Clinics at HMC and CGU, but will only pursue initiatives that enhance these programs. For example, when a Clinic project ends, student team members depart for graduate school or industry, and work on the project effectively stops. However, the sponsor may want to continue work on that project and this could be done as a CCMS sponsored research project.

In 1968, Oxford University originated Math in Industry Study Groups where researchers from industry were invited to a week-long session to present current technical problems to specialists from the academic community. After a week of brainstorming, useful contacts were made between industrial researchers and academics to work together as needed. These Math In Industry Study Groups have been held throughout the world and in particular, at the Claremont Colleges. For more information visit the website http//miis.maths.ox.ac.uk/.

The Clinic requires considerable teamwork to complete each project. A project team consists of a small group of students (one of whom acts as the team leader), client, a faculty supervisor, and consultants (visiting postdoctoral fellows or Claremont faculty with special expertise). Teamwork naturally places an emphasis on communication skills and students soon face the challenge to communicate practical mathematical results to non-mathematicians; they learn this communication requires training and mentoring. As in any course, the faculty supervisor assigns grades to student team members. Each Clinic team gives an oral report at least once each semester to an audience of faculty, students, and sponsor/client representatives. The team also regularly reports progress directly to the client. These interim and final written reports help keep Clinic work focused and on schedule. Toward the end of the Spring semester, an afternoon is set aside for formal presentations of all Clinic results to sponsors and other invited guests. This event, known as Projects Day, is hosted by the HMC Mathematics and Engineering Clinics and is conducted as a professional meeting, The event usually attracts about 500 participants.

In the Spring semester 2008, CCMS had a sponsored research project (from Fair Isaac) where the work was carried out in the Spring semester 2008 by faculty from CGU and Pomona College, and by 3 students from HMC and Pomona College (click here). This sponsored research project was not conducted as part of the Clinic program.

The HMC Clinic program indirectly gave rise to some business opportunities for the participants. For example, in 2005 alone, Engineering Clinic sponsors filed 13 patent disclosures at the end of their projects. The HMC Mathematics Clinic program provides another remarkable example: In the early 1980s the software available to small colleges to use in conjunction with mathematically-based industrial research projects was too expensive to acquire, and so a faculty-student team set about to seek out open source mathematical software which could be used for this purpose. The team consisted of Professors Stavros Busenberg, Courtney Coleman, and Robert Borrelli (HMC, Math), and the HMC students Ned Freed ‘82 (Engineering), Kevin Carosso ’82 (Physics), and Dan Newman ’85 (Math). The team decided to design a modular package that easily allowed additional software solvers to be included as they became available. The package that emerged was menu-driven (state-of-the-art at that time) and was called MATHLIB. Besides being used to support the Math Clinic program, MATHLIB was also used in several classes at HMC. To help support the further development of MATHLIB an attempt was made to market the package informally, but when that failed it was decided to start a company for that purpose. So in September 1987 Innosoft International, Inc. was founded as a garage operation. When it early on became clear that Innosoft could not make it by marketing MATHLIB alone, it was decided to market instead a messaging product called PMDF that was currently under development. Innosoft’s challenge now became
“to succeed in envisioning, engineering, delivering, and supporting the world’s finest Internet standards-based messaging and directory solutions”.
From that point on Innosoft became a successful enterprise, and by 1999 had over 2500 installed sites in 52 countries. In 2000, Innosoft was sold to Sun Microsystems.

The Math Clinic has so far completed more than 200 year-long projects for industrial and governmental organizations (click here). There have been numerous replications of the Clinic concept (all known by different names), such as those at N. Carolina State University, University of Delaware, Michigan State University, CSUs at San Jose and Fullerton, Salisbury University (MD), California Polytechnic University Pomona, and the Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics (IPAM) which is located on the UCLA campus. IPAM’s Math Clinic is known as Research in Industry Program for Students (RIPS) and currently runs 10 projects each summer (HMC was directly involved in the founding of RIPS). Europe has 95 centers for academic/industry collaborations in math (see www.ecmi-indmath.org) and many run Clinic-like programs. The Mathematics Clinic often receives requests for information on how to operate a Clinic program, some from abroad. Because Claremont has a long and successful experience in bringing faculty and students together with users of mathematics in industry, business and government, the Center will provide programs to train others in this form of teaching, including

  • Summer Clinic workshops for math high school and community college teachers.
  • Exchange programs with students from overseas (already begun at HMC).
  • Establish summer Clinic Programs at the Center. This program will not compete with the long-established Clinic programs at HMC and CGU because those programs by design operate only during the academic year.