Sunday, November 30, 2008

My Totally Hot Science

I don't normally talk about anyone or anything being hot, with the possible exception of the weather, but this month's Scientiae Carnival is being hosted by Dr. Isis, whose devoted worshipers all know that she, her shoes, and her science are totally hot. The topic for the carnival is what makes your science as hot as Dr. Isis' Naughty Monkey shoes.

While Dr. Isis' shoes are hot, they do not hold a candle to my science.

My science is hot because it is so all-encompassing. Applied mathematicians such as yours truly get to work with scientists and engineers studying almost anything you could imagine.

Personally, I've worked mostly with chemists and nuclear physicists, but I've been branching out into biofuel production and groundwater modeling. Do I know anything about chemistry, nuclear physics, biofuels, or groundwater? Not really! While I certainly know more about those subjects after working with these scientists than I did before, the cool thing is that I don't really need an in-depth knowledge of their science in order to make a difference in their research. All I need to do is find a way to leverage my knowledge of mathematics and computational science to help them solve their problems faster, more efficiently, or on a larger scale than ever before.

For example, in my biofuel production project, I'm helping to solve biofuel production logistics problems. The PIs of this project were worried about solving a really huge mixed-integer programming problem. As it turns out, I knew of some software that we could use on the supercomputer to solve their problem. Solving the problem at this large scale will revolutionize the biofuel supply chain modeling field -- they will be able to solve problems that they never thought they could solve, and in a reasonable amount of time, too.

That is the sort of thing that keeps me going every day. The fact that I can take something that I might consider basic knowledge, and apply it in a way that it's never been applied before, is smokin' hot.

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