Centre for Discrete Mathematics

This is to announce, not the founding of a Centre for Discrete Mathematics at Queen Mary (that happened a few months ago), but a new website for it, at qmdiscrete.wordpress.com

The Centre for Discrete Mathematics

You might be slightly surprised to learn that, when the Centre was set up by my University, I was initially given no part in it. Now they have reconsidered, and asked me to be on the board of management. Not an onerous job, and the other board members gave me the job of setting up a WordPress blog as a website for the centre.

So take a look; there is not a lot there at the moment, but it will grow as we put useful stuff up.

Philosophy

I cannot speak for all the directors of the centre; but my view is that, if you have to divide mathematics into two parts, the division into discrete and continuous is more sensible than that into pure and applied. Graph theory is undoubtedly pure mathematics, but it is also one of the most applicable parts of our subject, and it is closely interwoven with computer science, and with experimental design in statistics, and with all the many parts of science that are turning to the study of networks for insights. Some cosmologists, including John Wheeler, have speculated that the basic currency of the universe is information, measured in bits; this would mean that the theory of everything is discrete mathematics.

Of course, there are many interconnections between discrete and continuous. Hopf bifurcations provide a mechanism for continuous systems to generate discreteness; in the other direction, in Raphael Sorkin’s causal set theory, the discrete universe (a certain kind of poset) generates continuous geometry when viewed at a sufficiently coarse scale. Matrix entries can vary continuously, but the spectrum of a matrix is a discrete set (this underlies the phenomenon of “quantum jumps”).

So I would take a very inclusive view of discrete mathematics. As well as combinatorics, it includes large tracts of logic, algebra, probability, statistics, computer science, and topics further afield. At Queen Mary, for most of the quarter-century I have worked there, practitioners of these fields have worked happily and productively together. If badging ourselves as a Centre for Discrete Mathematics opens up various opportunities for collaboration, funding, and so on, then it is worth doing.

Of course, I am not in charge (and I will be retired in five months’ time), so there is no guarantee that it will develop along these lines. Maybe a different vision will guide it and make a success of it.

The website

How times have changed! IT support in Queen Mary is being centralised, and the support staff in the Mathematics building are no longer managed by the School. So a new website on the College system would have taken a lot of to-and-fro and high-level negotiation.

So in the end we decided it was simpler to set up a WordPress blog as the website. Since I already had one, I got the job.

Rather than jumping straight in as I did last time, I took a bit of time to select a suitable theme from the WordPress catalogue. There is a small issue here. A blog is a blog, after all, whereas a Centre of Discrete Mathematics website consists mostly of static pages. You can set the site up so that visitors arrive at a static page; but then the blog disappears off the screen. Also, it seems that search engines prefer a site where the content is continually changing. So you will get the blog when you arrive. But this particular theme makes it very easy to get to one of the static pages.

I would like to direct you to two things.

  • First, we will have a visitor programme, which will be funded by our start-up grant. Soon we will announce details of this. So you will be able to apply to come and visit us for a couple of weeks.
  • Second, we will have a problem collection. Like any blog post, the problems invite your comments and possible solutions. This is not really a Polymath in disguise, but maybe your comments on a problem will lead eventually to a solution. I am also very happy to post contributed problems: just put them on the blog.
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About Peter Cameron

I count all the things that need to be counted.
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2 Responses to Centre for Discrete Mathematics

  1. Gordon Royle says:

    As soon as any function (say IT) is centralized, its focus immediately shifts from helping users to finding them a nuisance and constraining them from doing anything – such as using them – that might interrupt the otherwise smooth running of the systems.

    Users are then forced to work around the central “one-size-fits-all” policy, and implement a wide range of personalized solutions such as setting up personal websites, blogs, buying their own computers etc.

  2. Bill Fahle says:

    I will keep an eye on that site. I’d like to come for a short visit to talk about permutation codes, uniformly k-transitive permutation sets, etc.

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