ASU mathematicians share research and expertise at Joint Math Meetings

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Arizona State University was well represented at this year's Joint Mathematics Meetings (JMM), the largest annual mathematics gathering in the world. Faculty, postdoctoral research associates and graduate students from ASU's School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences participated in research sessions and invited talks.

The annual event was originally scheduled to take place Jan. 6–9, in Washington, D.C. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the co-hosts, the American Mathematical Society (AMS) and the Mathematical Association of America (MAA), agreed to switch to a virtual meeting format. Other mathematical societies and associations involved with this year's JMM included the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM), National Association of Mathematicians (NAM), Association for Symbolic Logic (ASL), Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI) and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM).

The 2021 Virtual JMM kicked off on Jan. 6 with a talk by Malena Espanol, assistant professor in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences. Her talk, "Computational Methods for Solving Inverse Problems in Imaging," looked at different imaging systems and how the data produced often contains errors caused by the cameras or sensors. She proposed how to formulate the corresponding mathematical models, develop regularization methods and revealed numerical results.

Espanol's talk was part of the AMS-AWM Special Session on Women of Color in Applied Math and Analysis co-organized by Mirjeta Pasha, a postdoctoral research associate in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences. Pasha also presented a talk later that afternoon, "Krylov meets Bregman: Sparse image reconstruction with nonnegativity constraint."

"Mirjeta and I are both members of the AWM 50th anniversary committee. The committee decided to organize special events to celebrate," said Espanol. "This was one of the special events."

"The good thing about all these virtual conferences is that you can give tons of talks without traveling anywhere. But we are missing so much of the person-to-person contact. You can see many people you know in the chats, but it is hard to check on how they are doing, etc. in a chat. This is our academic family ... so not sharing meals or coffee breaks with them is definitely not the same," said Espanol.

Abba Gumel, Foundation Professor of mathematics at ASU, was invited by MSRI to give a talk in the Current Events Bulletin Session titled "Mathematics of the Dynamics and Control of the COVID-19 Pandemic." Gumel also presented on a second topic, "To mask or not to mask: That's the question for the COVID-19 pandemic," as part of the AMS Special Session on Advances in Mathematical Biology.

"The two talks provided insights into the most challenging public health problem mankind has faced since the 1918–1919 influenza pandemic, that of the spread and control of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic," said Gumel.

His research talks focused on assessing the impact of the two FDA-approved vaccines, with emphasis on whether or not the vaccines alone will lead to the elimination of the pandemic in the U.S. In other words, if the population could reach sufficient vaccination coverage to attain the desired vaccine-induced herd immunity, or if the U.S. will have to supplement the vaccination program with other nonpharmaceutical interventions, such as mask wearing and social distancing.

"Our studies clearly showed the latter, that vaccination alone will not lead to elimination since the required coverage needed for herd immunity is unlikely to be reached in the U.S., and that we still need to continue masking up and social distancing after the wide-scale roll out of the vaccines ... up to a certain point," said Gumel.

Two graduate students from the school also gave talks on their research. Genesis Islas was invited to present "Node generation for radial basis function partition of unity method for computations on surfaces" as part of the MAA Contributed Paper Session on The EDGE (Enhancing Diversity in Graduate Education) program: Pure and Applied talks by Women Math Warriors.

"I was lucky enough to be an EDGE participant in 2016 and I returned again as a mentor this past summer. Every JMM they hold a special session to showcase all the amazing things EDGErs are working on and represent diversity in the field," said Islas. "It also gave us the opportunity to reconnect with our EDGE community which provides immense support, especially now."

Tin Phan presented his research on "Model Preselection in Precision Medicine for Prostate Cancer" at the AMS Special Session on Advances in Computational Biomedicine. With many doctors and biomathematicians in the audience, there were discussions afterward on the issues that mathematical models face in clinical settings and potential solutions.

"I feel the overall experience with virtual talks is great, but it is still somewhat awkward to talk to the screen and not being able to gauge the reaction of the audience," said Phan.

Donatella Danielli recently joined the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences as director. She played a key role in two sessions at JMM, the AWM Workshop on Women in Analysis and the AWM Graduate Student Poster Session. Danielli and Irina Mitrea of Temple University are co-founders of the Women in Analysis network. Their network was selected by AWM to host the AWM ADVANCE workshop at JMM, and it enabled participants to share progress on research and continue collaborations started at a previous workshop.

For the AWM Graduate Student Poster Session, participants produced and uploaded 5-to-10-minute videos of their presentations and PDF versions of their posters. Winners were announced at the poster reception.

"I think the poster session was very helpful in bringing junior mathematicians together, to form a sense of community and mutual support among them, and to introduce them to a larger network of women mathematicians, despite the virtual setting," said Danielli.

"I was very pleased with the virtual JMM. It must have been a monumental effort to hold a meeting of that scale remotely, but everything worked very well and it allowed the community to come together and talk about what lifts us up — mathematics — at a very difficult time."