Bath’s Institute for Mathematical Innovation: model evolution
How can universities better release the potential that mathematics holds as an ‘underpinning technology’? How can we remove the common obstacles that hinder collaborations with external organisations? How do interdisciplinary projects and collaborations themselves benefit mathematics and statistics?
These questions are particularly pertinent at the moment due to the review of knowledge exchange in the mathematical sciences currently being undertaken by EPSRC and Innovate UK, and chaired by Philip Bond.
The University of Bath is widely known for industrial engagement in the mathematical sciences and the establishment of the Bath Institute for Mathematical Innovation (IMI) nearly two years ago is the latest development in our thinking. Through IMI the university is developing a new model for interdisciplinary and business collaborations centred on the mathematical sciences.
IMI provides a coherent framework to organise three strands of activities: additional support for mathematical sciences research, interdisciplinary research collaborations involving mathematics and statistics, and external consultancy work. Details of our activities can be found on our website.
As part of our support for mathematical research, for example, we match-fund Undergraduate Research Bursaries supported by the London Mathematical Society and we fund additional students, making a cohort of around 20 for whom we can then design a programme of additional activities and transferable skills training. New interdisciplinary research collaborations are supported by our internal secondments scheme which has been enthusiastically taken up by academic staff from a wide variety of departments (including, by way of example, Economics, Health, Management, Mechanical Engineering, Physics, and Psychology) across the University. These secondments typically focus on a ‘pump priming’ activity, initiating an innovative research idea with the potential to attract future research funding.
IMI is also proud to lead MI-NET (Mathematics for Industry Network) , an EU COST Action chaired by Joanna Jordan that promotes collaboration in, and the benefits of, industrial mathematics. MI-NET supports industrial workshops, training weeks, study groups and short-term scientific exchange visits between academic and industrial partners.
IMI’s capacity to carry out consultancy work for external partners is significantly reinforced by our team of Commercial Research Associates; PhD-qualified research staff who work on a wide variety of short-term projects, typically lasting from one to three months, with a flexibility that enables us to respond quickly to business needs and timescales. Recent collaborations include work with organisations in the agri-food, aerospace, energy, health, insurance, and retail sectors, and from local SMEs to global development agencies such as UNICEF.
Our experience over the last two years has been that initial short projects can easily turn into longer-term research collaborations as the academic and industrial participants get a better understanding of each other and the relationship builds. Having carried out around 20 projects since launch, it is clear that our experience is contributing to changing the culture of how Bath engages with external partners, both in the mathematical sciences and indeed more widely across the university.
The conclusions of the Bond Review will no doubt stimulate further developments and help the entire community to maximise the future opportunities for the mathematical sciences in the UK.
Director, Bath Institute for Mathematical Innovation
(first published, London Mathematical Society No471. July 2017)