MILES: Models and mathematics in life and social sciences

Start date

01 July 2010

End date

30 June 2013

Summary

MILES is an EPSRC 'Bridging the Gaps' interdisciplinary project that will stimulate new collaborations within the University between mathematics, computing, the physical sciences, engineering, life, and social sciences.

Aims and objectives

Mathematical contributors to the social and life sciences typically aim to provide insight by building a model and solving it using ingenious techniques and computer programmes whose details can be inaccessible to researchers in the host discipline. Mathematicians equally can be surprised to discover that these disciplines themselves use quite different kinds of models, in unfamiliar ways to seemingly perplexing ends.

Revolutionary progress comes when researchers from all the relevant disciplines create new kinds of models together, owned and exploited by them all. We plan a programme of networking, idea-generation and collaboration activities focused on modelling approaches to the life and social sciences, their synergies and dissonances.

We shall explore the different types of model used in different disciplines, the extent to which the models themselves, modelling methods (ways in which models are created and validated), methodologies (the philosophy of science behind modelling) and ways of using models (e.g. for understanding or prediction) can be transferred between disciplines, and when and how to create entirely new modelling frameworks.

We shall emphasise three themes of particular interest to research groups in the university, where different disciplines have distinct perspectives:

  1. Sustainability
  2. The 'in silico' cell
  3. Mathematical and computational techniques in social science and biology.

Activities

Our programme will, however, include activities across the wide span of life and social science modelling, with further occasional events on modelling in the broadest sense, to examine the opportunities for dialogue with other disciplines in the University (e.g. English, drama, music, film, psychology, management).

The University hosts several highly successful multidisciplinary centres, such as the Centre for Environmental Strategy, the Advanced Technology Institute and the Surrey Space Centre and projects including the ESRC Research Group on Lifestyles, Value and Environment and the EngD programme in Environmental Technology.

We see the potential for similar successful interaction between mathematics, computing, and the social and life sciences. To achieve it, we must create the circumstances that encourage individuals to take part in multidisciplinary projects, by suggesting to them that to approach another discipline with curiosity, but no immediate solutions is of great value. By providing opportunities to meet people from other disciplines and time to learn in detail about their perspectives, issues and interests and to develop a common language, and by offering incentives to embark on risky research adventures.

Our three-year programme of activities to stimulate new collaborations in life and social science modelling will be coordinated by a dedicated full-time facilitator, and include: externally facilitated annual sandpits with research pump-priming fund prizes; discipline hopping funding for mathematicians, computer and physical scientists and engineers to spend time in life/social science departments; a monthly Caf Scientifique; multidisciplinary workshops and networking events; a visiting scholar programme; funding for feasibility studies; a virtual forum and wiki for online discussion and collaboration.

Research projects conceived and developed during the programme will lead to follow-on grant applications. Owing to the strength of the contributing research groups, we expect the consequent impact on the UK cross-disciplinary research profile to be significant. Our ultimate aim is to create a sense of excitement about stepping beyond traditional subject boundaries and thinking creatively about working with a wide range of potential collaborators, so that the cultural changes initiated by this programme will be sustainable in the longer term, and cross-disciplinary research will continue to flourish at the University into the future.

Funding amount

£650,305

Funder

Team

Investigators

Nigel Gilbert CBE profile image

Professor Nigel Gilbert CBE

Professor of Sociology

Paul Krause profile image

Professor Paul Krause

Professor in Complex Systems

Johnjoe McFadden profile image

Professor Johnjoe McFadden

Professor of Molecular Genetics