Bringing Real Life to the Art of Mathematics

Alexander Stokes is currently completing dual Bachelors in mathematics and the arts, including courses in electroacoustic and computer music at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. The University of Sydney student is no stranger to combining arts with mathematics having begun his formal mathematics education in Japanese.

“The language’s mathematical and modular structure opened different ways of organising and sequencing ideas,” he recalls.

This came in handy during his recent Vacation Research Scholarship project on Integrable Systems and the algebraic and geometric properties that explain their strangely ordered behaviour under University of Sydney’s Professor Nalini Joshi AO.

“Understanding the hidden structure behind such systems will make it the easier for scientists to identify when they are dealing with one, such as in models of electrodiffusion or rogue open ocean waves,” he explains.

Unpredictable and dangerous, rogue, freak, episodic or killer waves create perilous conditions for ocean traffic including large vessels such as cruise liners, making the ability to use modelling to predict these events critical to forecasting conditions and improving safety.

It is this use of the language, logic and rigour of mathematics to reformulate the scientific that attracts Alexander.

“Applied mathematicians develop and analyse the problem and our observations to form conclusions about the system’s initial state and evolution. There’s a beautiful mathematical structure behind what we do and how.”

For Alexander, VRS was a chance to taste the realities of this type of observation and research in a real-world context.

“Far from the stereotype of solitary scribbling and light bulb moments, this experience highlighted the critical need to be able to communicate your ideas and see what you do in wider perspectives both within and beyond your discipline,” he reveals.

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