Mathematics will find a way

This contribution is about the universal language of mathematics that opens a door to the world. The importance of understanding mathematics is also discussed. 

Illustration by Cayla Basson
Proem

There are many paths that lead a person into mathematics. Some people have it, so to speak, in their blood since childhood; others find its charm during school lessons. Some pursue it for purely selfish reasons – to improve school marks or to avoid another subject. For many, mathematical calculations simply become a necessity that must be addressed, whether they have a positive attitude towards it or not. Indeed, it is difficult to avoid mathematics at all in today’s world.

Many might initially disagree that the use of mathematics in real life is widespread; I think that this is because we often do not even realize its wide-ranging use. However, it provides a strong apparatus not only for computer scientists, physicists and chemists, but also for biologists, geographers, builders, electrical engineers, logisticians… and even for the management of land resources. Last but not least, mathematics opens a door to the world.

Open your mind to mathematics and the world will open the door for you

In today’s computer age, it can be boldly said that the primary language of the world is English. English is the communication language of conferences, scientific articles are written in it, the latest results from the fields of science and technology are published in English, and the basis of many abbreviations in programming languages​ can be derived from this language too.But English is not the only universal language: mathematics holds a similar position. It does not matter whether the current mathematical article, book or study is written in Latin script in English, Slovakian, Finnish, or in Cyrillic in Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, or even in Greek; although the reader might not understand the accompanying linguistic commentary, he is able to understand the specific language of mathematics.

International cooperation

As a result, mathematics and international scientific cooperation simply go together, and sooner or later, international cooperation leads to traveling. For me personally, scientific cooperation in the field of mathematics has led me to Minneapolis in Minnesota in the USA, Montreal in Québec in Canada, Bangalore in India, Ilmenau, Mittweida, Elgersburg and Dortmund in Germany, Maribor in Slovenia, Sinaia in Romania, Pilsen, Zadov and Hradec nad Moravicí in Czech Republic, Rytro and Krakow in Poland, Szilvásvárad in Hungary, and also to Bratislava, Tatranská Lomnica, Nový Smokovec and other cities in Slovakia – see Figure 1.

Figure 1: Location of places on the world map (own elaboration based on [1])

It does not matter whether it was a long-term or a short-term stay, whether it was a research or an educational stay, whether it was connected with a conference or a non-conference lecture, registered or invited – each trip brought some enrichment for me. And it was not just about gaining some knowledge of the latest trends in the research area, discussions on topics of common interest, searching for and finding solutions to scientific problems or joint research and publications. In addition to these benefits, this cooperation brought me many friendly contacts. It allowed me to touch the local culture, taste some local dishes, get to know a piece of the country and thus gain a lot of skills and experiences. One might argue that it is not only mathematics that can open the world this way and that this holds true for most academic disciplines. But I have to remark here, that not all of the conferences I have attended were purely mathematical ones. Thanks to the cooperation I have been several times presenting the results of our research for example at the International Carpatian Control Conference which aim is “to support exchange of information and experience in the field of automation of engineering and production, in research, applications, and education” [2]. The presentations at this conference cover “most recent advances in complex automation, robotics, modelling, control of production and technological processes, including quality control systems oriented to environment, means of support, and information technologies” [2]. 

Local collaboration

Although I studied mathematics and physics, after my master’s degree I focused mainly on the former, and I have expanded only my mathematical education (degree of RNDr in mathematics; PhD-degree in discrete mathematics). I am currently working as a lecturer at the Faculty of Mining, Ecology, Process Control and Geotechnologies of the Technical University of Košice, where I am teaching mathematics and related subjects. In addition to research in the field of discrete mathematics, I am also dealing with the utilization and application of mathematics in solving problems of other scientific disciplines. The extensive use of mathematics across a range of disciplines allows me to work with colleagues from a variety of disciplines at our university. Together, we have already used powerful tools from mathematics to solve some problems in the fields of geography, economics, logistics and more.Working in teams made up of collaborators from various scientific disciplines is not only interesting and enriching, but also much more effective. At a time when the amount of knowledge from every scientific discipline is rapidly growing, it is unthinkable for one person to encompass understanding of all of them. The cooperation of experts from several scientific disciplines is an ideal solution.

Illustration by Liani Malherbe
The importance of mathematics valued by other disciplines

In the current days of pandemic, the power of scientific research has come to the attention of the media and public awareness – mathematical models are to be seen in dayly news. It is even highlighted that these models are based on mathematics. Prediction models of coronavirus spreading became the crucial essence in the worldwide fight against it. The models of the impact of the vaccination programme play key roles in the return to freedom and normality. [3] And these are only the few examples of importance of mathematics in nowadays world. Hard times have found their heroes. However, these new heroes are not the models from magazines’ front pages or people from show-business. The modern heroes are more or less anonymous people in white coats – paramedics, caregivers and scientists of a wide spectrum of research disciplines (including mathematics) who provide the research. In this context mathematics help save lives. But also apart from the current pandemic situation, it is inescapable that the powerful mathematical tools are increasingly being used in other scientific disciplines. The versatility of its language is a great advantage. Mathematicians are therefore often invited to collaborate on the solution of non-mathematical problems and sometimes they even form a key component of research teams.The situation in which education finds itself in many countries due to the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the urgent need to modernize teaching and the necessity of the full use of information and communication technologies there [4]. It also underlines the need for high quality mathematical education, as in the other disciplines it is very important to correctly interpret the results achieved via research and to understand the content interpreted.

Thanks to grants and supports

As a response to this situation the creation of several projects aimed at improving teaching of mathematics and distance learning in general can be observed.  Several related grant schemes supporting projects with these focuses were opened and related calls for proposals were published. In addition, some grant schemes that support applied research making strong use of mathematical tools at its core were opened too.  For example the Science and Engineering Research Board, a statutory body under the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, has approved funding for 11 projects under MATRICS scheme for studying Mathematical modelling and computational aspects to tackle the COVID 19 pandemic [5]. In United Kingdom (UK) the Isaac Newton Institute, the International Centre for Mathematical Sciences and the Heilbronn Institute for Mathematical Research expand a wide range of activities supporting mathematical education and training through funding [6] and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation, provide the funding programme for mathematical scientists to pursue short term research projects and support the discovery of ground-breaking and transformative new ideas [7]. Similar schemes can be found worldwide.At the present, I am participating in a project dedicated to the improvement of engineering education, as well as a project where mathematical tools and approaches are used in the analysis and modeling of technological processes of acquisition and processing of earth resources in order to optimize them. I am grateful to the financial background for the implementation of these projects from the grant KEGA 040TUKE-4/2021 of the Cultural and Educational Grant Agency and the grant VEGA 1/0264/21 of the Scientific Grant Agency both supported by the internal grant system of the Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Sport of the Slovak Republic and Slovak Academy of Science. Without the support mentioned above, this research would hardly be feasible.

Erika Fecková Škrabuľáková

Lecturer
Faculty of Mining, Ecology, Process Control and Geotechnologies
Technical University of Košice, KOŠICE, SLOVAKIA

[1] Asean Map123. https://www.mapsof.net/the-world/asean-map123 (2021/06/23)

[2] International Carpatian Control Conference. http://www.icc-conf.cz/ (2021/09/09)[3] DW. Made for minds. Coronavirus. https://www.dw.com/en/top-stories/coronavirus/s-32798 (2021/09/09)

[4] Borba, M.C. The future of mathematics education since COVID-19: humans-with-media or humans-with-non-living-things. Educ Stud Math (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10649-021-10043-2 (2021/09/07)

[5] SERB approves funding for study of mathematical & simulation aspects of COVID 19. https://dst.gov.in/serb-approves-funding-study-mathematical-simulation-aspects-covid-19 (2021/09/08)

[6] Funding boost for mathematical sciences institutes. https://www.ukri.org/news/funding-boost-for-mathematical-sciences-institutes/ (2021/09/08)

[7]  Grants to boost early-stage maths idea generation and research. https://www.ukri.org/news/grants-to-boost-early-stage-maths-idea-generation-and-research/ (2021/09/08)

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