Mathematical Modeling as Poetry

Mountain 1 by John Murray

Mountain 1 by John Murray

This semester I have been involved in an initiative called ICubed, which is a NSF-funded project that partners with several units at UCF to ensure broaden impact of  NSF funded projects through coordination and integration of education and research activities.  Undergraduate researcher, Krisin Elias, and I have been paired up with the Advanced Printmaking class for the STEAM component of the project.  The idea is to add “art” to “science, technology, engineering, and mathematics” by having art and design students create science-inspired art based on our explanation of science and engineering concepts.

Our initial presentation, where Kristin and I present our research to the printmaking class, is coming up.  To get a feel for how the presentations go, Kristin attended another such presentation and she reported back that many of the questions that were asked were about the researchers’ passion and feelings for their work.  So, as I pondered my research passion on my drive home from work, I heard a great NPR interview on Here and Now with Gregory Orr, who is an American poet.  Towards the end of the interview, Gregory Orr talks about the power and beauty of poetry.  As someone who has never really got poetry, I was surprised to find myself relating so much to his description of poetry.  I just needed to replace the word “poetry” with “math modeling” and it totally resonated with me.  How’s that for an artist and engineer communicating?

Below is my translation of Gregory Orr’s comments about poetry turned into my thoughts about math modeling.

Mathematical modeling is a way of expressing what is in this world, and trying to make sense of it.  Modeling is all about affirming meaning out of a complex situation.  What is beautiful about mathematical modeling is that it asks you to turn the world into numbers and expressions.  It is a way of ordering the complex world, it is a way of organizing, it is a way of expressing, and of capturing the trade-offs of complex phenomena.  It is a way of expressing our world.  It is a way to make sense of it.

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One response to “Mathematical Modeling as Poetry

  1. I have often thought that a “higher form” of engineering moves beyond the useful and efficient to the beautiful. Tufte’s excellent book Beautiful Evidence comes to mind.

    Let’s make it a goal to include something beautiful in that next paper!

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