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Math undergrads from four states meet to solve real‑world problems

A researcher presents at a math conference held at WSU in April.
Luke Martin of Gonzaga University presents his research exploring a variation on the mathematical concept of book embedding, which has applications in telecommunications, semiconductor design, bioinformatics, and more.

How human and animal diseases spread, how trees move in wind, and how confined fluids flow are among topics of research conducted by undergraduate mathematicians from across the Pacific Northwest who met recently at Washington State University to discuss their work.

Students and faculty from six universities in Oregon, Montana, Idaho, and Washington joined dozens of WSU peers at the 2022 Pacific Inland Mathematics Undergraduate Conference (PiMUC) to present their research in both applied and theoretical mathematics and to learn about using math skills to solve a variety of real-world problems.

“This year’s PiMUC conference saw a number of very impressive presentations in many diverse and interdisciplinary areas, ranging from pure mathematics to applications in public health and computer science,” said Sergey Lapin, a career-track professor of mathematics who co-organized the conference on the WSU Pullman campus. 

“Despite being somewhat isolated geographically, colleges and universities in our Pacific inland region have brilliant undergraduate students doing interesting and important research,” said fellow organizer Will Hall, WSU assistant professor of math. “The conference enabled undergraduate students from across the region to network with one another as well as with faculty and WSU graduate students also currently engaged in research.”

Hosted by WSU’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics with support from the College of Arts and Sciences, participants practiced communication skills and gained valuable experience and insights through poster sessions and formal talks. Awards were given for the top-rated visual and oral presentations.

Luke Martin of Gonzaga University in Spokane and Andrew Johnson of the University of Idaho in Moscow won top honors for their respective research talks: “Mobius Book Embeddings” and “Solving Fluid Flow Problems Using the Schwarz-Christoffel Transform.”

Researcher presenting a poster to peers during a math conference.
WSU mathematics undergrad Dana Pittman describes her interdisciplinary research which aims to stop the spread of Lyme disease and hantavirus.

Martin’s research explores a variation on the mathematical concept of book embedding, which has applications in multiple areas, such as graph making, telecommunications, semiconductor design, bioinformatics, and transportation planning.

Dana Pittman of WSU and Sara Jane Lynn and Max Pansegrau of Gonzaga won top honors for their respective posters: “Models for Fluctuating Mice Populations Using Demographic, Seasonal, and Ecological Changes with Stochastic Methods” and “Modeling Motion of Trees in the Wind.”

Pittman’s research focuses on rodents known to spread the pathogens for Lyme disease and hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. A novel mathematical technique employed in her research uses a coefficient of variation on periodic equations to simulate ecological phenomena, such as changing weather and food and water supplies.

In addition to the undergraduate presentations, faculty from participating schools shared insights from their research, and WSU graduate students in mathematics and statistics engaged individually with the student presenters and provided feedback on their posters and talks. 

Members of WSU’s Association for Women in Mathematics and American Mathematical Society provided additional mentoring opportunities, and a representative from Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories also talked with students about job opportunities at the Pullman-based company, which employs 5,400 worldwide.

PiMUC’s stated goal is “to provide an opportunity for students to meet each other, show off their hard work, and bond over their love of Mathematics.” It is hosted each spring by a different university in the conference region.

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