Hello there Joep! Where do you work and what do you work with?
I am a postdoctoral fellow at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, Greater Vancouver Area. My job is to do mathematical research and I am also involved in teaching. One or two days a week I work at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.
What have you studied?
I studied Mathematics (Industrial and Applied Mathematics, bachelor's and master's level) in the Netherlands, at Eindhoven University of Technology. I also obtained my PhD degree there in 2015.
Why is it that math is so fun?
Math provides tools to solve real-world problems. A mathematician's first task is to extract the essence of a problem and describe it in mathematical terms. Apparently unrelated problems may lead to similar mathematical formulations. This universality makes mathematics so powerful and makes mathematical research so rewarding: with a certain set of skills you can tackle problems in a variety of applications.
For some situations, we think at first sight that it is impossible to capture them in rigid mathematical formulas. An example is the movement of people in a crowd (see the topic of my talk below), that seems to be governed by unpredictable factors like selfishness and stubbornness.
Fascinatingly enough, it turns out that we can still draw meaningful conclusions using mathematics.
In what way do you work with math within you profession?
I work in a field that is called mathematical analysis. My main focus is on partial differential equations; many physical laws are mathematically represented by such equations. I study the properties of their solutions, qualitatively and quantitatively.
What in your career has been challenging?
The first challenge when trying to solve a mathematical problem is to find out which statements are likely to be true and can be proved. The next challenge emerges if your first attempts are not successful. Then a new approach is necessary, which you might find by thinking 'out-of-the-box'. To make progress, it may be needed to make yourself familiar with theory or techniques that are outside your area of expertise. It can be difficult to judge beforehand whether this will lead to success and will be worth the effort.
In general, it can be rather frustrating if you are more or less certain that something is true, but you do not manage to actually prove it.
What topic are you going to talk about on the Sonja Kovalevsky days?
I will speak about mathematical models for the movement of social individuals in groups, e.g. birds, fish or people. My aim is to show that simple rules of motion can lead to self-organisation.