Tag Archives: BIRS

Mathematics, Mexico, and Canada’s Banff International Research Station (BIRS) for Mathematical Innovation and Discovery

Thanks to Nassif Ghoussoub’s July 4, 2013 posting on his Piece of Mind blog where I found this information about a a possible Canada-Mexico mathematics initiative,

Oaxaca to join Banff as a hotbed for the mathematical sciences

The Banff International Research Station for Mathematical Innovation and Discovery (BIRS) is now accepting proposals for its 2015 program. BIRS will again be hosting a 48-week scientific program at its station in Banff. There is also a possibility (to be confirmed later) that BIRS will be running an additional 20-25 workshops at its developing new station in Oaxaca, Mexico. [emphasis mine]

The status and state of readiness of the new research station at Oaxaca is still awaiting final commitments from various private and public sponsors. We are aiming to have the facility open and ready to host an augmented BIRS program as soon as 2015. We shall keep the scientific community informed about this exciting potential to increase the BIRS opportunities.

Here’s a little background information about why BIRS wants to expand its offerings and why they hope to expand the programming to Mexico in particular. From Nassif Ghoussoub’s April 19, 2013 posting (Note: links have been removed),

Once again, I had to perform the unpleasant annual task of writing to more than 120 colleagues and their co-applicants all over the world to inform them that their proposals to run a research workshop at the Banff International Research Station (BIRS) in 2014 were not successful. Many of these declined proposals were excellent and some of the disappointed researchers were repeat applicants. The problem? 170 applications received in 2012 (more than double the number of the 2003 competition) for the available 48 weeks of programming at BIRS. The private sector has obvious answers to such increases in customers’ demand. But what do you do if your product is research capacity, your capital is scientific credibility, and your financier is the public sector?

Every year, BIRS hosts over 2000 researchers from 400 institutions in more than 60 countries who participate in its annual series of 48 weekly workshops, each hosting up to 42 researchers in disciplines in which mathematics, computer science and statistics are used in novel ways.  ….

A unique aspect of BIRS is that it is a joint Canada-US-Mexico initiative, which is funded by Mexico’s National Council for Science and Technology (CONACYT), Alberta Innovation, the US National Science Foundation (NSF), and Canada’s Natural Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).

Another remarkable feature of the Station is that it is located on the site of the world-renowned Banff Centre in Alberta, which is already internationally recognized as a place of high culture with programs in music and sound, the written, visual and performing arts, leadership and management that draw in many hundreds of artists, students, and intellectual leaders from around the world.

It had been clear to me for a while now that we need to increase the opportunities offered at BIRS by expanding its capacity to no less than 75 workshops per year. In other words, we need an additional research facility, where BIRS can support 25-30 workshops in addition to the 48 programs that currently run in Banff every year.

That special confluence of the arts and mathematics at Banff is something the BIRS organizers want to maintain in any new facilities and it’s why Francisco Toledo’s  CASA (El Centro de las Artes San Augustín) seems ideal for a new mathematics hosting space. From Nassif’s April 2013 posting (Note: Links have been removed),

 CASA, which opened its doors on March 21, 2006, is committed to be a public space, where education, artistic creation and experimentation could thrive. It was founded by Francisco Toledo, a prominent Mexican painter and graphic designer, who purchased the property in 2000 in order to create the first eco-arts center in Latin America. CASA is funded through the National Center for the Arts, the State Government of Oaxaca, and private foundations including the Harp Helú Foundation.

“Today CASA is comprised of a set of spaces providing for artistic initiation and creation. It has spaces equipped for the production of digital graphics, traditional graphic and dyeing workshops and textile design, photographic developing and organic printing. Under the assumption that the interaction with people from different lands stimulates creativity, promotes tolerance and strengthens a community, CASA invites artists to perform residencies giving priority to projects of ecological and community care.”

Francisco Toledo is convinced that mathematical scientists from all over the world can/should be part of these interactions in order to help stimulate another level of creativity, right there in his beloved Oaxaca. Toledo has consequently offered to donate a parcel of land adjacent to CASA on which could be built a facility, where some of the BIRS programs can run. Recent meetings with the Director of CONACYT, the Governor of the State of Oaxaca, and the Harp Helú Foundation were extremely promising.

Here’s more about CASA from the website homepage,

Recently restored, the 1883 textile hacienda founded by Jose Zorrila Trapaga was converted into the most beautiful Centre for the Arts of San Agustin (CASA). This is an outstanding contribution led by Maestro Francisco Toledo, to open a cultural opportunity for all interested in the many art workshops the center offers. Also, it brings extraordinary temporary exhibitions for all to marvel at, musical concerts at the weekends and most recently the former Pochote Cinema Club has moved here where the public can come to see cultural films for free most afternoons and special presentations on weekends.

While I note there’s no mention of mathematics on the CASA homepage, it (CASA) is mentioned in the BIRS 2015 Scientific Programme Call for Proposals (in a BIRS blog June 27, 2013 posting),

The Banff International Research Station for Mathematical Innovation and Discovery (BIRS) is now accepting proposals for its 2015 program. BIRS will again be hosting a 48-week scientific program at its station in Banff. There is also a possibility (to be confirmed later) that BIRS will be running an additional 20-25 workshops at its developing new station in Oaxaca, Mexico.

The status and state of readiness of the new research station at Oaxaca is still awaiting final commitments from various private and public sponsors. We are aiming to have the facility open and ready to host an augmented BIRS program as soon as 2015. We shall keep the scientific community informed about this exciting potential to increase the BIRS opportunities. …

The Station at Banff (and eventually the one in Oaxaca) provides an environment for creative interaction and the exchange of ideas, knowledge, and methods within the mathematical, statistical, and computing sciences, and with related disciplines and industrial sectors. Each week, the station hosts either a full workshop (42 people for 5 days) or two half-workshops (each with 21 people for 5 days). As usual, BIRS provides full accommodation, board, and research facilities at no cost to the invited participants, in a setting conducive to research and collaboration.

Full information, guidelines, and online forms are available at the BIRS website: http://www.birs.ca

The deadline for 5-day Workshop and Summer School proposals is Friday September 27, 2013.

In addition BIRS will operate its Research in Teams and Focused Research Groups programs, which allow smaller groups of researchers to get together for several weeks of uninterrupted work at the station. September 27, 2013 is also the preferred date to apply for these programs. However, proposals for projects involving Research in Teams or Focused Research Groups can be submitted at any time — subject to availability — they must be received at least 4 months before their requested start date.

Proposal submissions should be made using the online submission form. Please use: https://www.birs.ca/proposals

Nassif Ghoussoub, Scientific Director,
The Banff International Research Station

La version française suit ci-dessous. La versión española sigue abajo.

You’ll note the blogger Nassif Ghoussoub is also the BIRS’ scientific director.  He was recently reappointed to his position according to a June 18, 2013 posting on the BIRS blog,

Nassif Ghoussoub has been re-appointed to a five-year term as Scientific Director of the Banff International Research Station (BIRS) beginning July 1, 2013.

“Under Ghoussoub’s leadership BIRS has evolved to become one of the leading research institutions in the world,” said Doug Mitchell, Chair of the BIRS Board of Directors. “BIRS is currently looking for ways to further expand opportunities for the mathematical sciences and we are extremely fortunate that Dr. Ghoussoub has agreed to continue to lead us into this next phase.”

Dr. Ghoussoub is a Professor of Mathematics and a Distinguished University Scholar at the University of British Columbia. He has been a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada since 1993 and a fellow of the American Mathematical Society since 2012. For his research contributions he has received many awards including the Coxeter-James prize and the Jeffrey-Williams prize of the Canadian Mathematical Society.

Dr. Ghoussoub has been acknowledged worldwide for his many contributions to building Canadian and international research capacity and infrastructure, such as his role in the founding of the Pacific Institute for the Mathematical Sciences, the Mitacs network of centres of excellence and the Banff International Research Station. Among his most recent awards are the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal and the David Borwein Distinguished Career Award. He is a recipient of a Doctorat Honoris Causa from the Université Paris-Dauphine, and was recently invited to receive the degree of Doctor of Science from the University of Victoria.

Congratulations to Nassif! As for this initiative in Mexico, I wish you, Francisco Toledo, BIRS, and CASA all the best. This is a very exciting development.

Banff, mathematics, networks, and live streaming

The Banff International Research Station for Mathematical Innovation and Discovery (BIRS) is opening its virtual doors to the scientific community. I think Nassif Ghoussoub in his April 3, 2012 posting on his Piece of Mind blog says it better,

The Banff International Research Station (BIRS) has announced that its new physical meeting space at the beautiful TransCanada Pipelines Pavilion in Banff Canada,  is now accessible to the scientific community in virtual space, via live video streaming and high quality video recordings, produced by a state-of-the-art automated video production system. This is a first step in our collaborative effort with the Mprime network and the other mathematical sciences institutes, towards building and coordinating a national Internet infrastructure supporting mathematical research and education, including a unified video capture, video streaming, video archiving, and video storage service for the world’s mathematical science community.

I last mentioned  BIRS in my Jan. 9, 2012 posting (scroll down about 1/2 way) in the context of a mathematics workshop held there for poets.

Here’s more from Nassif about the virtual network,

Further into the future, we would like to add some interactive features that allow remote parties to participate in workshops. Sophisticated video conferencing integration has been part of the plan from the beginning, and remains a priority.…

BIRS alone will be broadcasting 25-30 lectures per week for 49 weeks of every year. Each lecture has the potential to open up new threads for research. Future authors working with these ideas will be empowered to provide precise citations to video archives of lectures inspiring their research. The citations to video lectures that appear in subsequent publications will contribute to a biblio-metric metadata stream demonstrating research impact. BIRS will be collaborating with the other institutes to define a unified video capture, video streaming, video archiving, and video storage service for all interested mathematical institutions.

In the meantime, you can find the latest lectures and notices about upcoming events here. Not all of these lectures will be livestreamed and/or recorded as the speaker must make the choice of pressing the ‘webcast’ button.

From the About BIRS Live Stream webpage (note: some links have been removed),

In January of 2012, BIRS installed a system of cameras, microphones, and automation technology in it’s main lecture room in order to fully automate the production, recording, broadcasting, and distribution of high-quality lecture videos. An overview of how it works is posted here. Since then, we have been busy writing software, adding features, and tweaking the behaviour of the system. As a work in progress, you should expect the occasional hiccup. We would love to hear your feedback or suggestions, since we are building this for the benefit of the community and consider it a collaborative effort.

I would like to extend a huge thank-you to all of the participants at BIRS who, in choosing to record — and now broadcast — their lectures online, provide a valuable resource, contributing to educational and scientific progress.

Brent Kearney
Technology Manager for BIRS

System Requirements

The live stream should work on any modern computer or mobile device that supports Flash or HTML5 streaming video. It has been casually tested and works with Microsoft Windows IE 8 and 9, Chrome, Firefox, Safari, iPhones, iPads, Playbooks, and some Android phones. Please let us know if it does not work on your device.

The live video uses dynamic streaming to automatically scale the video quality up or down based on your connection speed. Switching to fullscreen mode, or attempting to advance the play position, will force a re-evaluation of your bandwidth constraints. In it’s highest mode, the stream displays 1920×720 resolution HD video at 1800kbps and 30fps. In its lowest mode, it plays in most mobile devices at 320×180 resolution at 400kbps and 24fps. There are two modes in between.

Very exciting stuff. I think it would be wonderful if those plans to include interactivity happened to coincide with the next Canadian Science Policy Conference. BTW, despite what I wrote in my Feb. 20, 2012 posting (scroll down 2/3 of the way) about an imminent announcement, the location for the 2012 conference has not yet been divulged.

A math musical in Vancouver (BC, Canada) and a math workshop for poets at Banff (Alberta, Canada)

Mathematicians in Canada must be the wildest group of scientists we’ve got or perhaps they’re just the most creative of the lot. How else can you explain a math musical, Math Out Loud, which premiered Dec. 14, 2011 in Vancouver, and a workshop titled, Mathematics: Muse, Maker, and Measure of the Arts, held at the Banff International Research Station (BIRS) from Dec. 4 – 9, 2011?

I found out about the math musical in a Jan. 5, 2012 community newspaper article by Martha Perkins (for the WestEnder),

When Mackenzie Gray talks about the way Paul McCartney used a recursive sequence to make the song “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” seem to last forever, you realize that part of the Beatles’ phenomenal success might have sprung from McCartney’s genius as a mathematician.

When Roger Kemp draws on a napkin to illustrate that you just have to change the way you think about numbers to come up with a binary code for pi (as in 3.14 ad infinitum), you get a sense that math can actually be a lot of fun.

Here’s a little more information about the play from a Dec. 14, 2011 news release,

Math Out Loud is a major theatrical production that uses comedy, dance and music to make math approachable. Our goal is to reintroduce math to students in a new, creative light and hopefully re-open a door some may have considered closed.” [said Mackenzie Gray]

Highly-visible and well-recognized Vancouver television and film actor Mackenzie Gray (Superman: Man of Steel; Smallville; The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus) directed and wrote the script and songs. Academy Award-winning producer Dale Hartleben (The Man Who Skied Down Everest; 1976) produced the play. Acclaimed choreographer and Royal Winnipeg Ballet alumnus Joel Sturrock created the Broadway style dance numbers. Composer Joe Docherty arranged and recorded the music. A team of eight actors brings the production to life.

Math Out Loud tells the story of high school students Damon and Kelly as they share an adventure through a mathematical time-travelling dream full of colourful characters and conflicts that highlight the relevance of mathematics in a student’s busy modern life. Characters such as Christopher Columbus, Greek mathematician Eratosthenes and Cleopatra demonstrate mathematical principals tied to modern pop culture references. …

“If someone had told me three months ago a play could spark my interest in studying math, I wouldn’t have believed them,” said Sayer Roberts, one of the actors on stage with Math Out Loud. “I nearly failed math when I was in school. If math and science had been approached in a fun, unusual and creative way when I was in school, I’m pretty sure I’d have a different outlook on those subjects today.” [emphasis mine]

Yes, I heartily agree with Roberts’ sentiment. It’s amazing how many people shut down when they hear the word ‘science’ and it is, as he notes, all about how it’s introduced and taught. Bravo to the mathematicians for trying to turn that around.

The other project I mentioned, Mathematics: Muse, Maker, and Measure of the Arts, was profiled in a Dec. 16, 2011 post by Nassif Ghoussoub of Piece of Mind,

“Thank you so much for this opportunity for a non-mathematician to be part of the BIRS community”, wrote Alice Major. It doesn’t happen often that an illiterate mathematician gets an email from a Poet Laureate. Major was writing about her experience at last week’s workshop at BIRS (The Banff International Research Station). Entitled, “Mathematics: Muse, Maker, and Measure of the Arts”, the workshop was a BIRS classic. Her email made me feel even worse about not being there, and not only because I missed the likes of Ingrid Daubechies, David Mumford, and Robert Moody, who were merely the math. reps. for that event. Artists, musicians, poets, physicists and engineers were also there and they are now writing about it.

Artistic beauty and mathematical complexity have a history of interaction for as long as civilization itself: The golden ratio and the pyramids, Alhambra’s tessellations and the Penrose tiling, of course Da Vinci, Dali, Esher, and various minimalist and abstract schools of art, which had their roots in mathematics. But the workshop was about a totally different matter. It was about modern science and the future of such interactions.

Take for example, Stylometry analysis of literary style, which was initiated by the English logician, Augustus de Morgan, in the mid 1800’s as a way to settle questions of authorship by, for example, finding patterns in the length of words used by various authors.

Nassif goes on to a discussion of origami, Penrose tiles quasicrytals, robotics and more, as they relate to mathematics.

Alice Major, the poet laureate mentioned in Nassif’s post, wrote about her experience at Banff in a Dec. 14, 2011 posting,

The invitation to Banff thrilled me, but it also tipped me through a trap door in my psyche.  I would be surrounded by people who negotiated the academic environment easily. The list of participants detailed their various affiliations, but I had to be categorized as ‘independent.’ That sounds a lot sturdier than I felt. University had been a very scary place for me four decades ago. All my fellow students seemed to know so much more than me, to be so much more sophisticated than a kid from Outer Scarberia. I never seemed to have the right answers in class, the right clothes. And at that time I was only coping with the English program – a language I could supposedly understand – not the dense math language of symbol and equation.

So here I was. Nor could I just sit at the back of the class and absorb. At some point I was going to have to stand up and wring myself out. I’d have to talk to them. By the time I actually did so, my brain was melting jelly.

I intended to talk about metaphor, how it is an underlying mode of thought, not just a decoration, and applies to all realms of creation. Fortunately, writers can read bits of what they’ve written, and at least those sentences are coherent. I got through the outline of what I meant to say. But, in the discussion afterwards, when David Mumford asked a question about how we might teach metaphor better, I could only look at him and think, “A Fields medalist is asking me a question. What the $%@# do I say now?”

I gave some feebly irrelevant response. It was only afterwards, when the neural jelly was starting to re-set, that I thought, “For heavens sake, Alice, that whole chapter of the book is about how we can teach and learn metaphorical thinking!”

The book Major was remembering was her recently published, Intersecting Sets: A Poet Looks at Science.

So there you have it, math, poetry, musicals, dance, Penrose tiles, Gaussian distribution curves, etc.