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Maths whizzes tackle industry problems

- Wits University

Top researchers and postgraduates convene virtually for the 2021 Mathematics in Industry Study Group (MISG).

The MISG is a five-day workshop where leading mathematicians, scholars and students work collaboratively with representatives from industry on research problems. The study group has been in existence for over 50 years and convenes in different countries across the globe. The group was launched in South Africa in 2004. 

About 60 participants are attending the 2021 MISG, which runs from 1 to 5 February 2021. A graduate modelling camp also took place from 28 to 30 January to prepare and train participating students ahead of the study group.

Hosted by the School of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics, the 2021 virtual MISG has enabled the participation of exceptional researchers across the country and globe who may be restricted from travelling due to the Covid-19 pandemic, or teaching commitments. Invited international guests hail from the United Kingdom, Australia, Malaysia, India, and Spain.

The study group is an opportunity for both students to develop their problem-solving skills and for academics to expand their research collaborations, while solving problems of significance and thereby benefiting the industries involved.

The following four industry problems were submitted for the group to solve this year:

  1. Value of domestic tourists in travel and tourism industry, proposed by Precious Shabalala from the University of Mpumalanga
  2. Developing a South African tourism climate index, proposed by Professor Jennifer Fitchett from the University of the Witwatersrand
  3. Masks and the spread of droplets and airborne virions [the active, infectious form of a virus], proposed by Professor Alex Welter from Stellenbosch University
  4. Diffuser recycle rate, proposed by Mr Richard Loubser from the Sugar Milling Research Institute.

Professor David Mason, a distinguished Wits academic in the field of applied mathematics, championed the MISG in South Africa and has organised it annually since its establishment. An Emeritus Professor in the School of Applied Mathematics and Computer Science, Mason is lauded for his immeasurable contribution to the field and for building human capacity through the development of young researchers. The mathematician has published over 100 articles in Web of Science journals and has supervised/ co-supervised 24 masters and 12 PhD students to completion.

Mason says the MISG has made a positive impact on all stakeholders involved.

“It has introduced new problems for the teaching and the research. It has had an impact in industries, for example the sugar industry. Sometimes representatives from the sugar industry present our results at conferences. In the mining industry, we have worked on problems on safety and mines,” says Mason. He adds that the MISG has contributed to the personal development of participants, whereby at least one of them has set up their own consultancy after participating.

The Centre of Excellence in Mathematical and Statistical Sciences (CoE-MaSS) and the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences are sponsors of this year’s study group. Caryn McNamara, Manager at CoE-MaSS, says their sponsorship contributes to the critical development of emerging and established researchers.

“The MISG is a wonderful opportunity for researchers to network with top international experts in their respective fields from numerous countries. This type of early international exposure can springboard a young researcher’s development to the next level in their research much earlier on in their academic career.”