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December 2010 Issue
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Funding adds up for maths


From helping control disease pandemics to improving the efficiency of the Internet and advancing complex theories relating to particle physics, mathematics at the University of Adelaide is finding the answers - and winning the funding.

"Mathematics underpins so many different areas of research," said the Head of the School of Mathematical Sciences, Associate Professor Jim Denier. "Not only does it provide the tools required to explore the environment we live in, it also provides the language that allows us to ask new questions and open up new vistas of scientific enquiry."

Asking new questions is what Professor Mathai Varghese will be doing with his $375,000 Australian Research Council (ARC) grant. He will undertake research investigating the physics concept of 'supersymmetry' between matter and its force partner particles with mathematics.

Professor Varghese and fellow Chief Investigator Professor Peter Bouwknegt from ANU have just given two week-long lecture series on their research at Japan's most prestigious mathematics research centres at Kyoto and Tohoku universities.

His is one of the five successful ARC Discovery projects that researchers in the School of Mathematical Sciences will lead, with a total funding of more than $1.6 million, reflecting the School's position as one of Australia's leading mathematics departments.

The School's researchers will also share in just over $1.5 million for another Discovery project and two Linkage projects in partnership with other universities.

Developing new statistical methods to more accurately analyse and compare critical care performance in hospitals is the aim of a $310,000 project led by Professor Patricia Solomon. These new methods will account for the uncertainty in the assessment of provider performance - 'something of a holy grail' in health outcomes research, she said.

Professor Nigel Bean and Dr Joshua Ross have been awarded $255,000 to develop new mathematical tools for the adaptive management of threatened plant and animal populations and other ecosystems.
Dr Joshua Ross's $248,000 project will explore the spread of infectious disease with new mathematical techniques.

"Epidemics such as the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in the UK during 2001, the global SARS epidemic of 2003, the national equine flu outbreak of 2007 and the 2009 swine flu pandemic highlight the need to make informed, decisive responses," said Dr Ross.

Making sense mathematically of complicated Internet traffic is the aim of the fifth successful Discovery research project, led by Associate Professor Matt Roughan, with funding of $425,000. This project should lead to improved efficiency and reliability of Internet services.

The importance of mathematics as a discipline and its benefits for both school and university students is clear, Associate Professor Denier said.

"We know that, in the case of high school students, taking extra mathematics gives students a very strong advantage at university across all science subjects," he said.

"At university, students are able to see the utility of mathematics and statistics, from its study in the purest sense through to a wide range of application areas. Many of these areas are highlighted in the research conducted within the School and supported through this year's round of ARC grants."

Story by Robyn Mills

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