Keeping Industry on the Rails

I did my undergraduate degree in Computer Studies, before it was a science or information technology. I then did a Masters degree, working with engineers and applied mathematicians and the South Australian transport authority to develop a system for saving energy on suburban trains by telling drivers the optimal locations to power, coast and brake. I realised during that project that it was the applied mathematicians who were solving the interesting problems. I eventually did a PhD in applied mathematics, investigating the optimal control of a solar racing car.

Most of my research has been with the rail industry, developing more advanced driver advice systems, and train scheduling systems for large rail networks. Apart from rail research, I have worked with solar racing teams on driving strategies and solar array design, with engineers building electric vehicles, with the AutoCRC looking into the impact that electric vehicles will have in Australia, and most recently with the CRC for Low Carbon Living looking at how renewable energy systems and energy storage can be used to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A difficulty we face in applied mathematics is that industry may not recognise their problems could be solved by working with a mathematician. We have relatively few students, and so there are relatively few mathematical science graduates in industry. Perhaps we need greater engagement with students and researchers from other disciplines within our universities to increase our visibility from outside. Successful engagement between academics and industry will increase industry demand for graduates with the mathematical science, research and general problem-solving skills required by industry.


Associate Professor Peter Pudney: Deputy Director at the Centre for Industry, & Director of the Mathematics in Industry Study Group. 

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