A message from the Director to INI friends and participants, past and present

7 May 2020

I do hope that you are safe and well, and managing under extraordinary circumstances. I thought it might be a useful time to offer a quick and personal update on the Institute over recent months.

It seems like an age ago that we had the exciting news of a substantial increase in funding to UK Mathematical Sciences from the Government. This looks to mean that we will receive a significant uplift to the Institute itself, which would result in our being far better able to serve the community through enhanced programming of all event types. We were busy putting a careful plan together as to how to increase capacity and accessibility at the Institute when the lockdown began. In March and early April we were also writing our report to EPSRC for a mid-term review that was due to take place in June. That has now been deferred to the Autumn.

As to the transition to lockdown, we had a very frenetic period prior to closure in getting everyone out of the Institute and our accommodation. We had a full building, with two long programmes running, and during the week of 16th-20th March we also had workshop participants in attendance. Thanks to the amazing work of all the staff and the programme organisers, and despite the many challenges,  we had an orderly close-down, got everyone home (to many long-haul destinations including Mexico, South Africa, Japan and Australia) and managed to mothball the INI building before the University closed its doors on the 20thMarch.

Cognisant of the current world situation, we have now taken the decision to cancel all INI and Gateway physical activities at least through to the end of August 2020. Very sadly, this means we have had to postpone (i) the rest of the two current programmes and their associated workshops; (ii) the first two months of a programme starting in the second half of the year; (iii) two follow-on events; (iv) a summer short programme and its workshops; (v) various Newton Gateway events; (vi) and a large number of other one-off events. We shall keep those activities scheduled for September-December 2020 under constant review, but planning for activities for the beginning of 2021 and beyond is continuing as usual.

As so much time and effort has gone into each of the cancelled events, we have made the decision to reschedule them all if at all practicable. We are currently looking into mechanisms to enable them to run as soon as possible, and to not have wait until after the end of the already-scheduled programmes. I am most grateful to the organisers of all the cancelled meetings and programmes for their patience and understanding at this time.

As regards dealing with the lockdown, there are a variety of activities going on, but for brevity I mention two substantial activities.

We (INI and Gateway, the International Centre for Mathematical Science, the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN), plus a few key mathematicians) have independently set up the Virtual Forum for KE in the Mathematical Sciences (V-KEMS), which is able to act very rapidly to organise virtual events (meetings, seminars, study groups, workshops, brokering sessions etc.) We have put together a suite of software to allow mathematicians and others to interact as closely as possible to the way they would do so in our building. We have now started to use these applications, our new-found knowledge and experience, and offer our assistance, for a range of activities. Details are available on the Newton Gateway website. I am most grateful to Rebecca Hoyle (Southampton), Alan Champneys (Bristol), Chris Budd (Bath), Matt Butchers (KTN) and Dawn Wasley (ICMS) for being key members of the V-KEMS steering committee, alongside Jane Leeks and Clare Merritt from the Newton Gateway.

Perhaps the most exciting and challenging task over recent weeks has been the planning and creation of a virtual INI programme, called Infectious Dynamics of Pandemics (IDP) and can be seen as a follow-on from the highly successful 2013 (IDD) and 2014 (IDF) INI programmes on infectious disease dynamics. Deirdre Hollingsworth (from the Big Data Institute, Oxford) has agreed to lead it, with Denis Mollison (Heriot-Watt) and Valerie Isham (UCL) helping shape the initial research activities and strands. (Denis and Valerie were organisers of the 2013/4 programmes.)

This virtual INI programme, which commenced this week, is closely aligned with the Royal Society’s RAMP initiative. RAMP has the remit of “bringing modelling expertise from a diverse range of disciplines to support the pandemic modelling community already working on Coronavirus (COVID-19).” The IDP programme is  to have some 100 active participants, many taken from the RAMP volunteer list, and will provide online presentational and other support materials for many others who signed up to RAMP.

In conclusion, I would like to say two final things. First, the INI staff, including of course the Gateway, have been magnificent throughout this traumatic period. Their stoical attitude and resilience have allowed us to continue to function well, and they have been willing to be flexible to new ideas and working arrangements. I am certain we shall emerge post lockdown in excellent shape, and with many new ideas on ways of broadening engagement. Second, the Isaac Newton Institute is still open for business; please contact me to discuss your research ideas and how they might translate into Institute activities, whether for a one-day event through to a full six-month programme. We welcome activity from all areas of the mathematical sciences, and encourage intra- and inter-disciplinary research topics.

David Abrahams
Director, Isaac Newton Institute &
NM Rothschild and Sons Professor of Mathematical Sciences

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