September 2021 Newsletter

IMSI has a New Website

IMSI launched a new website at the beginning of September. It replaces the website which was put together in a few weeks after we learned we would receive an NSF award, and represents nearly a year of work to develop a replacement. Most of the material from the old website material transitioned to the new one, but users can look for anything that might be missing at, which will maintain a copy of the old website for a limited time.

Current and Upcoming Activities

Fall 2021

IMSI is currently hosting its first long program: Distributed Solutions to Complex Societal Problems. The program will run from September 20 to December 17, 2021, and includes the following workshops:

October 4-6: Introduction to Distributed Solutions

October 18-20: Short Courses on the Mean Field Approach in Machine Learning and Statistics

October 27-29: Aggregate Dynamics in Models with Heterogeneous Agents

November 1-4: Mean-Field Models for Interacting Agents

November 16-19: Applications of Mean Field Game: From Models to Practice

December 6-9: Applications to Financial Engineering

December 13-17: Mathematical Advances in Mean Field Games

The first two workshops will take place online, while the remaining workshops will take place in a hybrid format. All are open for registration now.

Other activities scheduled for this fall include:

October 15-17: Graduate Research Opportunities for Women (GROW) 2021 (at the University of Illinois at Chicago)

October 28-31: paraDIGMS Fall 2021 Conference: Diversity in Graduate Mathematics Education

November 19-20: Blackwell Tapia Conference 2021 (at MSRI, with satellite events at IAS, IMSI, and IPAM)

Winter 2022

February 7-11: Private AI: Machine Learning on Encrypted Data

February 21-25: Multiscale Microbial Communities: Dynamical Models, Ecology, and One Health

February 28-March 4: The Mathematics of Soft Matter: Structure and Dynamics

Upcoming Long Programs

Spring 2022: Decision Making and Uncertainty

Fall 2022: Confronting Global Climate Change

Spring 2023: Mathematics, Statistics, and Innovation in Medical and Health Care

IMSI's Long-Awaited Move into its New Space

IMSI received its initial funding from the NSF in August 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 global pandemic. At that time, there were no staff other than the scientific leadership team that proposed this new mathematical research institute, which is housed at the University of Chicago. With funding in hand, the university commenced renovations of two floors of the building previously occupied by the Harris School for Public Policy at 1155 East 60th Street, in Hyde Park, just south of Chicago’s famous Midway. As with most institutions, the pandemic has forced remote work and novel ways of continuing the progress of science while the space was being renovated. IMSI has been faced with the additional complexity of launching a new organization, building the staff team, and commencing scientific activities with no previous in-person and on-site experience. With IMSI's first year of funding behind us, we have hired our team and are now fully moved into our new space as of early August.

IMSI’s space has been designed to be a welcoming environment that will be conducive to nurturing scientific collaborations and hosting visitors from all over the world for up to ten weeks. The first floor features 25 shared offices; open collaboration space with roving chalkboards; a break room for coffee, chatting, and eating lunch; and a beautiful 120-person auditorium with banks of chalkboards on the stage and fully wired with the tech for live-streaming hybrid remote/in-person events. The bottom floor houses IMSI’s 30-person seminar room, more collaboration space, and a kitchen & coffee room with an adjacent lounge area.

Retrospective: Eliciting Structure in Genomics Data

The most recent IMSI workshop was Eliciting Structure in Genomics Data: Bridging the gap between theory, algorithms, implementations and applications, held August 30-September 3 in a hybrid format.

Methods for dimension reduction play a critical role in a wide variety of genomic applications. Indeed, as technology develops, and datasets grow in size and complexity, the need for effective dimension reduction methods that help visualize and distill the primary structures remains as essential as ever. Examples of the many practical applications in genomics include:

  1. understanding (i) the structure of wild populations (particularly endangered species) from population genetic variation, (ii) human evolutionary history, also from population genetic variation, (iii) the 3-D structure of DNA, and (iv) genetic factors that influence risk for different human disease;
  2. identifying (i) substructure among cell populations based on single-cell transcription patterns, and (ii) distinctive signatures of somatic mutations distinguishing different cancer subtypes;
  3. estimating confounding factors and other sources of unwanted variation in gene expression studies; and
  4. segmenting and annotating genomic regions based on molecular features.

The development and provision of effective methods for dimension reduction involve connecting a series of areas of expertise: theory to algorithms, implementations, and applications. Theory is required to help decide what methods and algorithms to focus on; algorithms are required for turning theoretical ideas into practical tools; and implementation of these algorithms is an often-overlooked step, where decisions are sometimes made that can greatly influence results. And all these steps need performing with at least one eye on the details of the practical applications and the data-types to which they will be applied. Unfortunately, there are relatively few opportunities for experts in these different areas to come together and learn from one another. This workshop addressed this problem by bringing together mathematicians and computer scientists with a deep understanding of the theory and algorithmic and implementation issues, with applied statistical geneticists who have invaluable experience with both implementing and applying these methods to data, and interpreting the results. The goal was to start new conversations across disciplinary barriers. The workshop exposed theoretical experts to the many ways that these methods are used in practice and the ongoing challenges that arise; and it exposed those familiar with applications to recent developments on the theoretical side.

IMSI Sponsors Expansion of Young Scholars Program at the University of Illinois Chicago

For many years, the University of Chicago Mathematics Department has run a successful summer math enrichment program called the Young Scholars Program (YSP). Led by John Boller from UChicago Math, this year’s program immersed pre-college students for four weeks of online math education (July 6-30) focusing this year on a variety of topics in geometry that they typically would not see in school.

YSP UChicago hosted 43 students, roughly split 50-50 male/female. Of the 43 students, 27 resided in Chicago, 14 were from Illinois outside of Chicago, one was from Oregon and one from Bangladesh. The overall success of the program was perhaps best captured by one happy parent who said, “I would like to express my appreciation to you and your team for a wonderful summer program. My daughter has an inherent fear of mathematics, especially geometry. However, I have seen her getting ready for the sessions with so much enthusiasm. Although she still has a sort of inertia about geometry, I now see a positive change in her. So, THANK YOU for making geometry fun for students like her!”

In July, IMSI sponsored an expansion of YSP to the University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC), with a modified format designed to offer an introduction to a broader set of topics in a set of 4 one-week modules and to introduce students to future career options in STEM. The goal of the YSP at UIC is to introduce a diverse group of high schoolers from all over Chicago to exciting topics in mathematics and to show them what it would be like to major in math or other STEM-related fields in college. Through excellent instruction, creative hands-on activities, and guest lectures we aim to inspire students and give them the confidence and skills to pursue mathematics in their future endeavors.

Organized by UIC math faculty James Freitag and Will Perkins with the encouragement and support of Brooke Shipley (UIC math department head and IMSI co-PI), the UIC YSP attracted 50 students from 30 different Chicago-area high schools, all of whom participated in-person. Many of the students participated in more than one week and a large number participated in the entire four-week program, spending most of their July scratching their math itch by exploring the following topics: Week 1: Probability, Games, and Statistics; Week 2: Number Theory and Cryptography; Week 3: Graph Theory; and Week 4: Algorithms and Networks. The program was free to participants thanks to funding from the NSF, through IMSI’s grant and CAREER grants of Freitag and Perkins.

Boller and Shipley reported great success with each YSP, thus demonstrating demand and sustained interest in the two different programmatic models, one featuring in-depth immersion in a math topic and the other featuring a broader survey of a number of topics. IMSI is proud to have been engaged with both efforts, particularly because of their reach with Chicago Public Schools and students from schools outside the city, and because our overarching hope is that the student participants who chose to spend a big chunk of their summer with math will continue their love of and engagement with the subject.

Retrospective: Introduction to Decision Making & Uncertainty

From June 28 through July 23, 2021, IMSI hosted the Introduction to Decision Making and Uncertainty program online. This four-week summer school explored how to make decisions in the face of risk. Participants were introduced to a variety of modeling questions and methods applicable to decision-making under uncertainty in economics, finance, business, and other areas.

The workshop was broken into various modules, with an initial tutorial introducing the core concepts covered in that module before moving into more specific areas of research and their application to real-world problems. For example, in the first module (organized by Thaleia Zariphopoulou of the University of Texas at Austin), participants were taught about stochastic optimization, backward stochastic differential equations (BSDE), dynamic programming, and Hamilton-Jacobi-Bellman equations. This was followed by a discussion of how these principles can be applied to investment via robo-advising. A robo-advisor is a method using algorithms in lieu of a traditional financial advisor to make investment decisions. As robo-advising is a growing market, it’s important to understand how this human-machine interaction system relies on mathematical principles such as stochastic optimization frameworks, PDEs, reinforcement learning, and Nash equilibria.

Another module, organized by Tomasz Bielecki (IIT) and Andrzej Ruszczyński (Rutgers) addressed decision processes with dynamic risk measures. In one lecture under this topic, the speakers discussed a recent publication that introduced a new text-mining methodology for extracting information from news articles to predict asset returns. Unlike more common methods used for stock return prediction, the supervised learning framework using this methodology was able to monitor streams of news articles covering the financial system and extract predictive signals from this information. Essentially, this algorithm was able to quickly assess changing financial news and make investment decisions that exploited the time delay seen in other algorithms.

Finally, outside of the financial and business applications, the final week included a module on models for climate change with ambiguity and misspecification concerns. Using approaches to game theory, participants discussed mathematical tools for making decisions in uncertain situations. For more on the basics of game theory and making decisions related to climate change, check out this series from The Atlantic.

Welcome New Staff

IMSI is pleased to announce that we have added two new staff members to the team. Please join us in welcoming them to IMSI!

Bernard Davis, Manager of IT and AV Services

Bernard Davis Jr. joined IMSI in July 2021 as the Manager of IT and AV Services. Bernard previously spent 24 years as the VP of Global Technical Support for a global real estate investment management company in Chicago. Bernard received his Bachelor's degree from Governors State University, Project Management certification from Rutgers University, and is ITIL 4 certified.

Sadie Witkowski, Director of Communications and Engagement

Before Sadie joined IMSI as Director of Communications and Engagement, she held positions both in academia and industry. She has extensive writing experience from her time as a pharmaceutical copywriter, as well as a wealth of knowledge regarding science communication training and podcasting. Sadie completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Texas at Austin before moving to Chicago for a PhD in the Brain, Behavior, and Cognition area of Northwestern University’s psychology department.

Copyright © 2021. All rights reserved.
IMSI acknowledges support from the National Science Foundation
(Grant No. DMS-1929348)

Institute for Mathematical and Statistical Innovation
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