July 27, 2018

Students, Faculty, and Companies Gather for an Intensive Week of Problem-solving

Group photo of this year's Mathematical Problems in Industry Workshop participants.
THE POWER OF APPLIED MATH: Teams of students, professors, and visiting mathematicians tackled current-day industrial problems during the 34th Annual Mathematical Problems in Industry Workshop, held in late June on the campus of Harvey Mudd College

For the Institute of Mathematical Sciences (IMS), the “a” in “math” should stand for “applied.”

What sets apart IMS from other mathematics programs across the country is its special emphasis on having students develop solutions to industrial problems and other company issues for a variety of industry and government clients, which in the past have included Southern California Edison and Boeing, among others.

That applied focus has been a signature feature of the university’s math program for decades (learn more about how IMS clinic teams work with major industry giants as part of the Engineering & Computational Mathematics Clinic).

A regular event showcasing the applied dimension of mathematics training is the Mathematical Problems in Industry (MPI) Workshop, which provides not only mathematicians from IMS but from the Claremont Colleges in general with a chance to apply their knowledge to specific problems posed by a group of participating governmental and private companies.

Now in its 34th year, the five-day MPI workshop was hosted in late June on the Harvey Mudd campus and was co-organized by IMS. This summer’s participating companies included:

  • Toronto General Hospital
  • Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
  • The Boeing Company
  • Jet Propulsion Laboratory
  • Revon Systems Inc
  • WL Gore and Associates

The MPI workshop is a dynamic, intensive week of interactions among faculty, students, and attending scientists. Small teams are deployed to tackle a variety of problems presented by these companies.

No one receives the problems in advance of the workshop, (Sorry, no sneak peeking allowed!), and this year was no different.

Day One of the workshop was devoted to representatives from each company, who presented their problems to a large audience of attendees in Harvey Mudd’s Shanahan Building.

For the rest of the week, small working groups tackled the problems—ranging from developing mathematical models for a heart defect to analyzing the freezing and heating of copper pipes on spacecraft moving in and out of the Earth’s shadows—with a final presentation of each group’s solutions and recommendations on the workshop’s final day.

“We look forward to seeing how the innovative approaches we develop will have a meaningful impact on each participant’s situation,” IMS Director Marina Chugunova said during the workshop.

Joining Chugunova as organizers of this year’s summer workshop were UCLA’s Andrea Bertozzi, Claremont McKenna College’s Chiu-Yen Kao, Harvey Mudd’s Lisette de Pillis, and Chugunova’s colleague at CGU, Ellis Cumberbatch.


One of the academic teams presents its recommendations on the final day of the MPI Workshop.
PRESENTING THEIR FINDINGS: The final day of the MPI Workshop was devoted to team presentations.


What have past MPI participating companies thought about the results and solutions presented by the math teams?

For John Skelton of Albany International Research, a past MPI participant, their results have been surprisingly effective—in fact, he has said, their recommendations have been more effective than he expected them to be.

“We were fairly confident that we had a problem that would stand up to the assault team,” he said. “We and a wide range of other workers had attacked parts of it over a span of several decades and the progress was not particularly impressive. We were much less confident that the [MPI workshop] would be conducive to a satisfactory solution, but it turned out to be an excellent way to make progress.”

Learn more about the 2018 MPI Workshop series.

Learn more about the Institute of Mathematical Sciences at CGU.