Imperial College London

Maths problems from any discipline tackled by the Maths Helpdesk

by

Maths HelpDesk logo

Stuck with some maths in your research? Contact the Imperial College Maths Helpdesk!

A group of PhD students have set up the Maths Helpdesk, a new multidisciplinary collaboration platform to aid researchers with maths related queries and connect researchers throughout Imperial.

What is Maths Helpdesk?

The team match academics across the College who are stuck on mathematical problems with mathematicians who have the required expertise. They hope this will promote Imperial’s rich inter-disciplinary environment and spark connections between academics in different faculties and departments that might not have otherwise made contact.

"We found out that there are many researchers in other departments looking for help from mathematicians"

– Franca Hoffmann

Co-founder of Maths Helpdesk

This exchange of expertise promises to benefit the solver as much as it will the enquirer. Franca Hoffman, one of the HelpDesk founders, writes: “We have found that seizing these opportunities can broaden your skill set, increase your professional network, and can lead to publishable work.”

“Often, mathematicians are not aware that their skills can bring invaluable contributions to the work of research groups in other departments, and there are many more engineers, biologists, chemists and material scientists who contact us to seek help from mathematicians than we would have ever expected.”

Why is it necessary?

The team say: “Typically, one of the largest challenges in collaborating across fields is translating technical jargon and formulating the research concept. To give an opportunity to address this we hold informal monthly drop-in sessions where problem authors can receive advice on how to best express their problem by explaining their question directly to a mathematician. Shorter questions may even be solved then and there. Moreover, these relaxed sessions serve as an opportunity to meet researchers from various departments. The first step to collaboration is finding your collaborator!”

How did it start?

"The questions may range from those with quick solutions to those that lead to fruitful, long-term collaborations"

– Maths Helpdesk Team

Franca continues: “It all started with the desperate search of a material scientist looking for help with a diffusion model for fuel cells. After an odyssey of being passed on by administrators and professors, his email ended up in my inbox. We worked together on the problem and might now have several publications as a result of this collaboration.

"Following on from this initial collaboration we found out that there are many researchers in other departments looking for help from mathematicians, and the idea of the Maths Helpdesk was born.”

How’s it going so far?

Last year the collective organised an information event, attracting around 50 maths PhD students and PostDocs, with many new solver sign-ups immediately after. In addition, a launch event delivered on the 7th November 2016 promptly generated over 20 questions; interest in and support for the initiative is clearly enthusiastic!

How to get involved

If you have a query for the team, or would like to start a conversation about a specific mathematical concept such as mathematical analysis or modelling, you can submit a problem online.  The team will also run monthly drop-in sessions where researchers can talk to mathematicians face-to-face in an informal and relaxed environment.

If you are a mathematician interested in joining the team as a solver you can find out more about how to register on the For Solvers section of the website.

Find out more and stay connected

Follow the team’s blog for upcoming events and stories of the connections they are building. To find out more about the Maths Helpdesk Team, or to contact a member, visit the Team Page.

Reporter

Claudia Cannon

Claudia Cannon
Faculty of Natural Sciences