Monday, January 24, 2005

Adventures in Multivariate Calculus

My large fan base (ok my sister) has alerted me to the fact that despite its title, this blog has little to do with math. So, as a treat to my readers, I shall now incorporate some math into this blog. Or rather, I shall complain about the lack of mathematical support in the general word processor.

Today I was filling out an application for a fellowship at NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology, with sites in Gaithersburg, MD and Boulder, CO). Aside from the evil process by which one applies for this fellowship, it seems like a totally cool thing and I would be pretty excited to work there. You have to find a person at NIST who would be willing to sponsor your application, and would theoretically be the person you would work with at NIST. I was hunting through the list of sponsors when I came across this guy who is my twin, in research interests at least. I looked at his web page and his picture on the page gave me the impression that he was a terribly nice guy. So I got up the courage and e-mailed him about being my sponsor. He replied within a couple of hours, happy that I had asked, and even went so far as to send me a research proposal that I needed to fix up and turn in, and to call me on Friday afternoon to tell me all about the process.

Basically we just have to turn in a short proposal that sounds plausible and that appeals to reviewers. He had an idea of applying the optimization method upon which my thesis is based to optimal contaminant sensor location problems. The idea is trying to figure out where inside a building to put sensors so that they will detect a chemical or biological attack. (Anything having to do with stopping the terrorists is an easy sell these days.) So we worked on the proposal, which included a couple of equations, in particular, the Navier-Stokes equation (convection-diffusion). Then I discovered that the proposal had to be submitted in either Word or rich-text form. We had been working in LaTeX, and any sensible call for proposals would have included at least a pdf option for those of us who actually use equations. But these people weren't being sensible.

I don't actually have Word on my computer; I only have AppleWorks and OpenOffice, and I couldn't figure out how to get either of them to translate my equations with nablas (that's upside-down capital deltas for those of you playing along at home without multivariate calculus experience) into Word or rich-text. So eventually I gave up, realizing that I could just call those div and grad as appropriate. But it took me a while to translate into words what the nabla operator was actually doing. It wasn't an equation that I use all the time.

Anyhow, that was my adventure in multivariate calculus for the day. Thank goodness it's over now. I also had to figure out how to send the people who are going to write my recommendations the appropriate documents so that they could write recommendations in just the proper format that these administrative cheeseweasels at NAS (National Academy of Sciences) want them. And I've had a low-grade fever all day which hasn't made things any easier.

Jeff has been sick for a week, and I'm just succumbing to whatever he was kind enough to give me. The only problem is that my CON score is 20 (+5 bonus!) so I rarely get sick enough to stay home and lie in bed. I just get sick enough that I don't feel 100%, so I just subsist through the day.


Anonymous said...

Math! The final frontier! (well, for ME, anyway...)


Laura said...

Hm, but the only actual NUMBERS I see were at the end, in describing your CON score. Math indeed.