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# News from ICTP 94 - What's New

*A new course will make its debut this fall at ICTP and SISSA.
The focus will be on modelling and simulations. The goal will
be to use these tools to cast light on real-world problems.
*

**Math Matters**

**A**n enclosed walkway links the
main building of one institution to the main building of the other.
But ICTP and SISSA (the International School for Advanced Studies)
are more than neighbours. They are, in fact, kindred souls. For
more than 30 years, the two institutions have co-sponsored activities,
shared facilities and agreed to joint research appointments--all
as part of a mutual effort to advance the study of theoretical
physics and mathematics.

In the early years of the relationship and indeed through the
1990s, the division of basic science into distinct disciplines
often was straightforward. While mathematics served as a common
language, high energy physics, condensed matter physics, cosmology,
seismology and most other basic research areas travelled along
clearly defined avenues of inquiry that rarely intersected. More
recently, however, scientists have discovered that once-thought-to-be-separate
research areas may share common ground.

ICTP and SISSA have participated in this journey of discovery
through research and training activities devoted, for example,
to string theory and algebraic geometry, field theory and statistical
mechanics, disordered materials and chaotic systems. These activities,
some of which appeared on the scientific calendars of ICTP and
SISSA as early as the 1980s, often have blurred the formerly distinct
boundaries between mathematics, physics and statistics.

The two institutions take another step in this direction this
fall with the launching of a one-year graduate course, "Modeling
and Simulation of Complex Realities. " The course will be
expanded into a two-year master's degree programme in 2002. The
goal is to provide students who have enjoyed solid backgrounds
in mathematics and theoretical physics with the advanced training
that they need to apply tools in basic science to real-world problems.
An essential aspect of the second year of the master's programme
will be the fostering of collaboration with industries and other
institutions.

Methodologies from probability theory, stochastic processes, control
and game theory, optimisation and fluid dynamics will serve as
the backdrop for modelling issues ranging from population dynamics
to climate change to the behaviour of consumers in emerging market
economies to airline scheduling problems (see "Fiscal
Physics").

What are the underlying principles in science and mathematics
that provide common ground for these explorations? They are the
non-linear, complex and unstable world in which we live, a world
whose (dis)order can become clearer and more predictable through
sophisticated use of mathematical models.

In tackling many of the world's most critical economic, environmental
and even social issues, a key difficulty lies in reformulating
the analyses into terms that are amenable to rigorous and quantitative
scientific assessment. It's the difference between feeling that
summer temperatures have been getting hotter and devising a database
that proves your point and then building mathematical models that
project what will happen to temperatures, cloud patterns and precipitation
in the future under a variety of environmental assaults and atmospheric
conditions. Use of mathematics and models, in effect, helps researchers
verify what has happened in the past and propose reasonable predictions
of what may happen in the months and years ahead. In short, models
help scientists approximate the real world.

Where all of this leads remains difficult to predict, which may
be a fitting description for an approach to science and problem-solving
that seeks to better understand the complexity of the world in
which we live. Yet this much is true: the frontiers of science
have always resided where the greatest insights in understanding
nature take place. That's just another reason why both ICTP and
SISSA are seeking to expand their involvement in the emerging
field of applicable mathematics.

*Riccardo Zecchina*

ICTP Condensed Matter Physics Group

**Matteo Marsili**

Italian National Institute for the Physics of Matter (INFM)

and International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA)