On February 2nd, 2016 the Imperial College SIAM student chapter launched the Imperial Maths Helpdesk – an initiative bringing PhD students and researchers from different departments together to share expertise and start inter-departmental collaborations. Our aim is to match researchers across departments that are stuck on mathematical problems with mathematicians who have the required expertise. Often, mathematicians are not aware that their skills can bring invaluable contributions to the work of research groups in other departments, and there are many more engineers, biologists, chemists and material scientists who contact us to seek help from mathematicians than we would have ever expected.
It all started with the desperate search of a material scientist looking for help with a diffusion model for fuel cells. After an odyssey of being passed on by administrators and professors, his email ended up in my inbox. We worked together on the problem and might now have several publications as a result of this collaboration. Following on from this initial collaboration we found out that in fact, there are many researchers in other departments looking for help from mathematicians, and the idea of the maths helpdesk was born. Around 100 PhD students and researchers from across departments at Imperial College attended the launch event on February 2nd, 2016 with many problems being submitted on the first day.
This is still a young initiative and we are still experimenting how to improve the matching process. The SIAM student chapter administers the email address firstname.lastname@example.org, where researches from within and outside the mathematics department can ask questions and post their problems. We then try to find matches and organise face-to-face meetings to discuss the problem in further detail. We currently have 17 submitted problems, amongst which 3 have been solved, 11 are on-going collaborations and 3 are awaiting to be matched. We are looking forward to getting more departments and researchers involved as it looks like there is a lot more potential for this initiative to grow.
by Franca Hoffmann (President Imperial SIAM Student Chapter)