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The Mathematical Sciences in 2025
Committee on the Mathematical Sciences in 2025; Board on Mathematical
Sciences and Their Applications; Division on Engineering and Physical
Sciences; National Research Council
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The Mathematical Sciences in 2025 The Mathematical Sciences in 2025 Committee on the Mathematical Sciences in 2025 Board on Mathematical Sciences and Their Applications Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Mathematical Sciences in 2025 THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS 500 Fifth Street, NW Washington, DC 20001 NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.
This project was supported by the National Science Foundation under grant number DMS-0911899. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organizations or agencies that provided support for the project.
International StandardBook Number-13: 978-0-309-28457-8 International Standard Book Number-10: 0-309-28457-0 Library of Congress Control Number: 2013933839 Additional copies of this report are available from the National Academies Press, 500 Fifth Street, NW, Keck 360, Washington, DC 20001; (800) 624-6242 or (202) 334-3313; http://www.nap.edu.
Suggested citation: National Research Council. 2013. The Mathematical Sciences in 2025. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press.
Copyright 2013 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare.
Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone is president of the National Academy of Sciences.
The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. Charles M. Vest is president of the National Academy of Engineering.
The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Harvey V.
Fineberg is president of the Institute of Medicine.
The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy’s purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government.
Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine.
Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone and Dr. Charles M. Vest are chair and vice chair, respectively, of the National Research Council.
When I was asked to chair a committee of mathematical scientists charged with examining the field now with an eye toward how it needs to evolve to produce the best value for the country by 2025, I demurred because I am not a mathematical scientist. The counter was that therefore I would not be biased, could be objective to prevent possible internal politics from “capturing” the report, and would be continuing a tradition of having such committees chaired by nonexperts. The assignment was educational in many ways.
The committee was extraordinary in its makeup, with experts from the core of mathematics as well as from departments of statistics and computer science, from both academia and industry. My eyes were opened to the power of the mathematical sciences today, not only as an intellectual undertaking in their own right but also as the increasingly modern foundation for much of science, engineering, medicine, economics, and business.
The increasingly important challenges of deriving knowledge from huge amounts of data, whether numerical or experimental, of simulating complex phenomena accurately, and of dealing with uncertainty intelligently are some of the areas where mathematical scientists have important contributions to make going forward—and the members of this committee know it. They have demonstrated a great capacity to envision an emerging era in which the mathematical sciences underpin much of twenty-first century science, engineering, medicine, industry, and national security. I hope that this report persuades many others to embrace that vision.
While all members of the committee contributed to this report, vicechair Mark Green, from the University of California at Los Angeles, and
NRC staff, headed by Scott Weidman, worked tirelessly to provide much of the writing and data that give the report its coherence, organization, and credibility. I especially thank them, for myself and for the rest of the committee, for their essential contributions.
This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the National Research Council’s Report Review Committee. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge.
The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process. We wish to thank the following
individuals for their review of this report:
Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions
or recommendations nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Lawrence D. Brown of the University of Pennsylvania and C. Judson King of the University of California, Berkeley. Appointed by the National Research Council, they were responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring committee and the institution.
The committee also acknowledges the valuable contribution of the following individuals, who provided input at the meetings on which this
report is based or by other means:
OVERVIEW The vitality of the U.S. mathematical sciences enterprise is excellent.
The discipline has consistently been making major advances in research, both in fundamental theory and in high-impact applications. The discipline is displaying great unity and coherence as bridges are increasingly built between subfields of research. Historically, such bridges have served as drivers for additional accomplishments, as have the many interactions between the mathematical sciences and fields of application. Both are very promising signs. The discipline’s vitality is providing clear benefits to most areas of science and engineering and to the nation.
The opening years of the twenty-first century have been remarkable ones for the mathematical sciences. The list of exciting accomplishments includes among many others surprising proofs of the long-standing Poincaré conjecture and the “fundamental lemma”; progress in quantifying the uncertainties in complex models; new methods for modeling and analyzing complex systems such as social networks and for extracting knowledge from massive amounts of data from biology, astronomy, the Internet, and elsewhere; and the development of compressed sensing. As more and more areas of science, engineering, medicine, business, and national defense rely on complex computer simulations and the analysis of expanding amounts of data, the mathematical sciences inevitably play a bigger role, because they provide the fundamental language for computational simulation and data analysis. The mathematical sciences are increasingly fundamental to the social sciences and have become integral to many emerging industries.
This major expansion in the uses of the mathematical sciences has been paralleled by a broadening in the range of mathematical science ideas and techniques being used. Much of twenty-first century science and engineering is going to be built on a mathematical science foundation, and that foundation must continue to evolve and expand.
Support for basic science is always fragile, and this may be especially true of the core mathematical sciences. In order for the whole mathematical sciences enterprise to flourish long term, the core must flourish. This requires investment by universities and by the government in the core of the subject. These investments are repaid not immediately and directly in applications but rather over the long term as the subject grows and retains its vitality. From this ever-increasing store of fundamental theoretical knowledge many innovative future applications will be drawn. To give short shrift to maintaining this store would shortchange the country.
The mathematical sciences are part of almost every aspect of everyday life. Internet search, medical imaging, computer animation, numerical weather predictions and other computer simulations, digital communications of all types, optimization in business and the military, analyses of financial risks—average citizens all benefit from the mathematical science advances that underpin these capabilities, and the list goes on and on.
Many mathematical scientists remain unaware of the expanding role for their field, and this incognizance will limit the community’s ability to produce broadly trained students and to attract more of them. A community-wide effort to rethink the mathematical sciences curriculum at universities is needed.
Mechanisms to connect researchers outside the mathematical sciences with the right mathematical scientists need to be improved and more students need to be attracted to the field to meet the opportunities of the future.
BROADENING OF THE MATHEMATICAL SCIENCESThe mathematical sciences aim to understand the world by performing formal symbolic reasoning and computation on
structures. One aspect of the mathematical sciences involves unearthing and understanding deep relationships among these abstract structures. Another aspect involves capturing certain features of the world by abstract structures through the process of modeling, performing formal reasoning on the abstract structures or using them as a framework for computation, and then reconnecting back to make predictions about the world. Often, this is an iterative process. Yet another aspect is to use abstract reasoning and structures to make inferences about the world from data. This is linked to the quest to find ways to turn empirical observations into a means to classify, order, and understand reality—the basic promise of science. Through the mathematical sciences, researchers can construct a body of knowledge whose interrelations are understood and where whatever understanding one needs can be found and used. The mathematical sciences also serve as a natural conduit through which concepts, tools, and best practices can migrate from field to field.