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Essential coronavirus update for INI activities

Publication Date: 
Friday 6th November 2020 - 15:45

 

**This page was last updated on Friday 6 November 2020**
 

COVID-19 continues to present great challenges for all of us. Since March this year, we have been compelled by circumstance to consider every aspect of our lives, and faced many mountains to scale along the unexpected journey from the first lockdown to today. Our routines have been changed forever, and our working practices developed and refined at such a pace many of us are left feeling slightly off kilter, and sometimes a little overwhelmed. 

Despite the difficulties and challenges, the staff at the INI have been remarkable in their ability to react quickly and effectively to support the mathematical community, showing a spirit of resilience we will remember when things return to something closer to normal.

Throughout this period of adaptation and change, the INI has aspired to uphold its raison d’etre: to stimulate and support mathematical research throughout the UK and beyond. In April, a virtual programme examining the Infections Dynamics of Pandemics (IDP) was formulated, and within a few weeks traversed a fast-tracked, academically rigorous approval process to begin in earnest within a record timeframe. The work of this programme has enabled mathematicians across the world to work collaboratively on one of the most urgent and difficult issues of our time. Indeed, the contribution to groups most closely linked to the decision making bodies of the UK Government have been numerous and vital. The INI team on the ground can be proud that they helped support such an important initiative at such a crucial moment; and congratulations must go to our colleagues Julia Gog, Graham Medley and Catherine Noakes on their OBEs for their services to the UK’s COVID-19 response.

Another recent initiative that should be celebrated includes the rapid-response creation of the Virtual Forum for Knowledge Exchange in Mathematical Sciences (V-KEMS). Since its inception on 21 March 2020 it has helped galvanise mathematical scientists to engage in pandemic-related issues, run 20 virtual events, produced 20 outputs, engaged over 800 participants, leveraged three person-years’ worth of academic activity time, and secured new studentships. It is also essential to highlight the great successes of the Newton Gateway team during this period, with two virtual workshops - focused on the topics of electro-magnetic environment and landscape decision-making - being worthy of particular mention. 

A background to all of this novel activity has, of course, been the announcement in January of a £300m increase in government funding for the UK’s mathematical sciences. Over the past few months the specifics of what this means for INI and the Newton Gateway have been made clear and we look forward to sharing exciting announcements on the subject with you soon.

With this in mind, and as life has adapted to the “new normal”, so the Institute has considered how to best serve the community going forward, and investing time and resource into developing how best to effectively facilitate the continuation of mathematical research. The INI has therefore made the decision, in consultation with our stakeholders, that all events will continue to be virtual until March 2021. This decision was not an easy one, but was reached by considering many factors affecting our staff, colleagues and collaborators and by reaching a level of confidence that our virtual offering can be as effective and productive as possible at this challenging time. 

I am delighted that some of our staff were able to return to work at the Institute during October. This allowed socially distanced interactions with colleagues, and provided a welcome alternative to working from home. However, due to the commencement of “Lockdown 2” we this week reluctantly closed the building again until early December to safeguard our colleagues, and to do our part in the prevention of the virus spreading. Of course, visitors have not been able to come to the Institute since March, but we are all ever hopeful that as the UK Spring begins, so too will the arrival of national and international colleagues to the Institute who will participate in both physical and hybrid activities. 

The learning from the last eight months has been huge, and it continues throughout each working day. We are developing better and more inclusive ways of working together in a virtual environment, and are confident that over the coming months we will be able to run many more meaningful events which support the ongoing research of our communities before the full reopening of the INI. We hope that in 2021, the Institute will be able to resume the programming of physical events alongside those which will undoubtedly continue in the virtual world, and look forward to a time when we can return to sharing a physical space.

Until then, we would like to send everyone our best wishes. We welcome any suggestions or proposals for virtual activities that you would like to see take place at INI during the immediate future, and please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions or concerns you may have at this unusual time.

- Professor David Abrahams, Director 

University of Cambridge Research Councils UK
    Clay Mathematics Institute London Mathematical Society NM Rothschild and Sons