Governments open $5 million math centre in Banff

When you think of activities for tourists in Banff, Alta., a week-long discussion of chaos theory doesn’t spring to mind, but that could soon change.

A troika of governments Monday announced the establishment of an international research centre in the popular vacation spot. The governments of Alberta, Canada and the United States have pooled $5 million for the Banff International Research Station for Mathematical Innovation and Discovery (BIRS) where thousands of scientists and researchers yearly will come to discuss pure and applied mathematical sciences.

According to Dr. Arvind Gupta, scientific director for the Mathematics of Information Technology and Complex Systems (MITACS) Networks Centres of Excellence, this is the first time Canada and the U.S. have collaborated on such a centre. In Canada the project was driven by Pacific Institute for Mathematical Sciences (PIMS) while the Berkeley, Calif-based Mathematical Sciences Research Institute took charge in the U.S.

BIRS is accepting proposal applications until Oct. 31, says Gupta, which will be judged by a panel of 25 renowned scientists and adds he expects the facility to open for business in March 2003.

Gupta says he hopes work emanating from the facility will have an impact on information technology.

“I have a personal interest in seeing that we run activities here that will hopefully have a strong industrial component and people will talk about problems that are leading edge, talk about how to train students for the next generation of technology,” Gupta says. “I think information technology will be very well represented here.”

Another benefit for the IT industry could be the retention and attraction of the world’s finest minds. “It’s very important that we have things like this that are very visible to the scientific community in the world because if you want to recruit and retain talent you have to have visibility,” he says. “You have to have things that people recognize.”

Gupta says Banff was chosen because of its name recognition and location. George Labahn, associate dean of grad studies and research mathematics faculty at the University of Waterloo, says you need a special setting to attract the world’s brightest.

“Part of the thing you also want is a location that’s far away from other universities so people can’t necessarily do their day-to-day stuff, they can focus on the research aspect of their meeting,” says Labahn.

“These people come together in a somewhat isolated setting so that there are no other distractions,” Gupta says. “They eat, live and breath research for a week and hopefully make substantial progress.”

Funding breaks down as follows: The National Science Foundation in the U.S., $1.95 million; Alberta Science Research Authority, $1.7 million; Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, $1.5 million.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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