Reflections on a SIAM Presidency

The Drexel Dragon, on the Drexel University campus a couple of blocks from SIAM.
Face Fragment (1975) sculpture, a block from SIAM.

My two-year term as SIAM President ended on December 31, 2018. It’s been an exciting and enjoyable two years, not least because of the excellent SIAM staff, leadership and other volunteers I’ve worked with.

My blog post Taking Up the SIAM Presidency and my SIAM News article Evolving and Innovating set out some ideas that I wanted to pursue during my two years as president. I will not attempt to review these here, but just list five highlights from the last two years.

  • We held the SIAM ADVANCE in April 2018: a two-day strategic planning workshop attended by 25 officers, staff, and other members of the SIAM community. The many ideas that emerged from the event are summarized in an 80-page report provided to the SIAM Council and Board of Trustees. Many of these have already been acted upon, others are in progress, and yet more will be considered in the future. My SIAM News article Advancing SIAM gives more details of the workshop.
  • A new journal SIAM Journal on Mathematics of Data Science was created. The first issue will be published in the first few months of 2019.
  • A new SIAM book series Data Science was created.
  • A new SIAG, the SIAM Activity Group on Applied and Computational Discrete Algorithms was approved and will begin operation in 2019.
  • The new SIAM website was launched (in June 2018).
The location of the SIAM office: 3600 Market Street, Philadelphia.

Here is a summary of my presidency in numbers:

  • 12 trips to the USA (with 0 upgrades from economy class to business class).
  • 8 visits to SIAM headquarters and 1 SIAM staff meeting attended.
  • 20 “From the SIAM President” columns written for SIAM News: they are listed here.
  • 2 SIAM Council Meetings chaired and 4 SIAM Board meetings attended.
  • 1 ICIAM board meeting attended and 1 ICIAM board meeting and workshop hosted by SIAM in Philadelphia.
  • 2 meetings of the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics in Washington chaired and 2 attended.
  • Over 230 appointments made to committees and of candidates for elections (with the advice of various SIAM committees).

Photo Highlights of 2017

Here are some of my favourite photos taken at events that I attended in 2017.

Atlanta (January)

This was the first time I have attended the Joint Mathematics Meetings, which were held in Atlanta, January 4-7, 2017. It was a huge conference with over 6000 attendees. A highlight for me was the launch of the third edition of MATLAB Guide on the SIAM booth, with the help of The MathWorks: 170106-1123-14-5528.jpg Elizabeth Greenspan and Bruce Bailey looked after the SIAM stand: 170105-2056-12_5438.jpg If you are interested in writing a book or SIAM, Elizabeth would love to hear from you!

The conference was held in the Marriott Marquis Hotel and the Hyatt Regency Hotel, both of which have impressive atriums. This photo is taken taken with a fish-eye lens, looking up into the Marriott Marquis Hotel’s atrium 170104-2015-50-5388.jpg (For more photos, see Fuji Fisheye Photography: XT-2 and Samyang 8mm).

Atlanta (March)

I was back in Atlanta for the SIAM Conference on Computational Science and Engineering, February 27-March 3, 2017. A highlight was a 70th birthday dinner celebration for Iain Duff, pictured here speaking at the Parallel Numerical Linear Algebra for Extreme Scale Systems minisymposium: 170228-1020-54-5783.jpg Here is Sarah Knepper of Intel speaking in the Batched Linear Algebra on Multi/Many-Core Architectures symposium (a report on which is given in the blog post by Sam Relton) 170227-1712-57_5700.jpg Torrential rain one night forced me to take shelter on the way back from dinner, allowing a moment to capture this image of Peach Tree Street. 170301-1945-22_6376.jpg

Washington (April)

The National Math Festival was held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington DC on April 22, 2017: 170422-1537-57_6202.jpg I caught the March for Science on the same day: 170422-1917-01_6325.jpg 170422-1944-58_6455.jpg

Pittsburgh (July)

The SIAM Annual Meeting, held July 10-14, 2017 at the David Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh, was very busy for me as SIAM president. Here is conference co-chair Des Higham speaking in the minisymposium “Advances in Mathematics of Large-Scale and Higher-Order Networks”: 170713-1033-16_7413.jpg Emily Shuckburgh gave the I.E. Block Community Lecture “From Flatland to Our Land: A Mathematician’s Journey through Our Changing Planet”: 170712-1821-50_7337.jpg The Princeton Companion to Applied Mathematics was on display on the Princeton University Press stand: 170710-1728-15_7289.jpg Here are Des and I on the Roberto Clemente bridge over the Allegheny River, the evening before the conference started: 170708-2121-33_7255.jpg

SIAM Annual Meeting 2017 Preview

It’s a month to the 2017 SIAM Annual Meeting at the David Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh. We’re returning to the location of the 2010 meeting. The meeting is co-chaired by Des Higham (University of Strathclyde) and Jennifer Mueller (Colorado State University).

Here are a few highlights and things it’s useful to know. If you haven’t already made plans to attend it’s not too late to register. Be sure to take in the view from the roof of the convention center, as shown here.


Block Lecture by Emily Shuckburgh

The I. E. Block Community Lecture on Wednesday evening will be given by Emily Shuckburgh on From Flatland to Our Land: A Mathematician’s Journey through Our Changing Planet. Emily, from the British Antarctic Survey, is a co-author of the recent book Climate Change, which she wrote with HRH Prince Charles and Tony Juniper.

Prize Lectures

As always, a number of prize lectures will be given at the meeting. These include the four-yearly James H. Wilkinson Prize in Numerical Analysis and Scientific Computing, which will be awarded to Lek-Heng Lim. His lecture is titled Tensors in Computational Mathematics. See this article about Lek-Heng.

Joint with Activity Group Conferences and Workshops

The meeting is held jointly with the SIAM Conference on Industrial and Applied Geometry (GD17) and the SIAM Conference on Control and Its Applications (CT17), in the same location. One registration fee gains you access to all three meetings!

In addition, the SIAM Workshop on Parameter Space Dimension Reduction (DR17) and the SIAM Workshop on Network Science (NS17) are taking place just before and just after the conference, respectively.


Funding of mathematics, and other subjects, is in a state of uncertainty under the current US administration. In the minisymposium How Changing Implementations of National Priorities Might Affect Mathematical Funding a panel of representatives from funding agencies will describe the current situation and future opportunities. This is a great chance to hear the latest news from Washington from those in the know.


SIAM provides a host of activities for students, beginning with an orientation session on Sunday evening and including a career fair, a session on career opportunities in business, industry and government (BIG), and the chance to meet and talk to invited speakers and co-chairs.

Hidden Figures

An evening session will include Christine Darden, who was one of the human computers included in the book “Hidden Figures” by Margot Lee Shetterly, on which the recent Hollywood movie of the same title was based.

SIAM Business Meeting

The Business Meeting (Tuesday at 6.15pm) provides an opportunity to hear the president (that’s me!) and SIAM staff report on SIAM’s activities over the past year and to ask questions. The 2017 SIAM Fellows will be recognized, and a reception in their honor follows the Business meeting.


SIAM is developing a new website. A preliminary version will be available on laptops in the exhibit hall for participants to try. Feedback will be much appreciated and SIAM staff will be on hand to receive your comments.

Baseball Match

If you are staying in Pittsburgh on the Friday night, consider attending a baseball match. The Pittsburgh Pirates play the St Louis Cardinals at home at PNC Park on Friday July 14. I went to the Friday match after SIAM AN10 and really enjoyed it; the views from the ground are spectacular.



If you are not able to attend you can get a feel for what’s going on by following the hashtag #SIAMAN17 on Twitter.


There’s plenty to do and see in Pittsburgh, as the following images illustrate. As well as the impressive bridges over the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, and some interesting downtown architecture and murals, there’s the Andy Warhol Museum (a short walk from the convention center). Here are some images I took in 2010.

100716-2057-19-0797.jpg 100716-1953-56-0749.jpg 100716-2013-14-0769.jpg 100716-1620-53-0547-Edit.jpg 100716-1800-58-0606.jpg 100716-1525-36-0533-Edit.jpg 100716-1524-16-0529.jpg 100716-1624-56_0551_Edit.jpg

SIAM Books Available Worldwide from Eurospan


SIAM books are now available to individuals, bookstores, and other retailers outside North America from Eurospan, who have taken over the role previously carried out by Cambridge University Press.

This is significant news for those of us outside North America for two reasons.

  • Shipping is free, anywhere in the world.
  • SIAM members get a 30 percent discount on entering a special code at checkout. This code was emailed to all SIAM members in March 2017. If you are a SIAM member and do not have the code, you can get it by contacting SIAM customer service at

Check out the landing page for SIAM books at the Eurospan website.

SIAM members outside North America now have three options for ordering SIAM books.

  • Eurospan: 30 percent member discount; pay in GBP in the UK, euros in Europe, Australian dollars in Australian territories, US dollars everywhere else; free shipping.
  • SIAM Bookstore: 30 percent member discount; pay in US dollars; free shipping (at least for the near future).
  • Amazon: unpredictable, sometimes very small, discount; pay in currency of the particular site.

Parallel Numerical Linear Algebra for Extreme Scale Systems

A minisymposium Parallel Numerical Linear Algebra for Extreme Scale Systems was held at the SIAM Conference on Computational Science and Engineering, Atlanta on February 28, 2017.

Jack Dongarra.

Today’s most powerful supercomputers are composed of hundreds of thousands of computing cores (CPUs and accelerators) connected in high speed networks that make up a massively parallel high performance computing (HPC) system. These systems are placing new demands on effective scalable numerical algorithms and software libraries, which will only increase in the future as we move towards increasingly heterogeneous systems with millions of compute cores. This minisymposium, which I organized jointly with Bo Kågström (Umeå University, Sweden), focused on addressing these challenges in the context of linear algebra problems through developing novel parallel algorithms, exploring advanced scheduling strategies and runtime systems, carrying out offline and online autotuning, and avoiding communication and synchronization bottlenecks.

Iain Duff showing the new second edition of Direct Methods for Sparse Matrices.

The speakers were all members of the NLAFET (Parallel Numerical Linear Algebra for Future Extreme-Scale Systems) project, which is one of the high-profile extreme-scale computing research projects funded by the European Commission within the Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) program under Horizon 2020. Much of the work described in the minisymposium was carried out within NLAFET.

Around 75 people attended and there was standing room only. Here are the talks, with links to the slides. The names of the speakers are italicized.

Related to this minisymposium was the two-day Workshop on Batched, Reproducible, and Reduced Precision BLAS, held a couple of days beforehand at Georgia Tech. The workshop included presentations from both academia and industry and the program contains links to the speakers’ slides.

MATLAB Guide, Third Edition (2017)

The third edition of MATLAB Guide, which I co-wrote with Des Higham, has just been published by SIAM. It is a major update of the second edition (2005) to reflect the many changes in MATLAB over the last twelve years, and is 25 percent longer. There are new sections and chapters, and almost every page has changed.



The new chapters are

  • Object-Oriented Programming: presents an introduction to object-oriented programming in MATLAB through two examples of classes.
  • Graphs: describes the new MATLAB classes graph and digraph for representing and manipulating undirected graphs and directed graphs.
  • Large Data Sets: describes MATLAB features for handling data sets so large that they do not fit into the memory of the computer.
  • The Parallel Computing Toolbox: describes this widely used and increasingly important toolbox.

The chapter The Symbolic Math Toolbox has been revised to reflect the change of the underlying symbolic engine from Maple (at the time of the second edition) to MuPAD.

New sections include Empty Matrices, Matrix Properties, Argument Checking and Parsing, Fine Tuning the Display of Arrays, Live Editor, Unit Tests, String Arrays, Categorical Arrays, Tables and Timetables, and Timing Code.

Two other big changes are that figures are now printed in color and there are thirteen “Asides”, highlighted in gray boxes, which contain discussions of MATLAB-related topics, such as anonymous functions, reproducibility, and color maps.

The book was launched with a reception hosted by The Mathworks and SIAM at the SIAM booth at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in Atlanta on January 6, 2017. Jim Rundquist (Senior Education Technical Evangelist) represented MathWorks, and several SIAM staff, including SIAM Publisher David Marshall, were present.

Two delicious cakes, one containing a representation of the cover of the book, were enjoyed by reception attendees. Inspired by MATLAB, the cakes were served using slice, deal, and input, and an occasional reshape or rotate, with a pool of workers consuming them asynchronously.

Elizabeth Greenspan (Executive Editor, SIAM), Jim Rundquist (Senior Education Technical Evangelist, The MathWorks), Nick Higham (University of Manchester), Bruce Bailey (Book Marketing Associate, SIAM), and David Marshall (SIAM Publisher).

Taking Up the SIAM Presidency

I am honored to be taking over the reins from Pam Cook as president of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) for the next two years, starting January 1, 2017. Pam remains as past-president during 2017. I look forward to helping to address the challenges facing SIAM and to working with the excellent SIAM officers and staff.

SIAM headquarters, Philadelphia.

Eighteen months ago I wrote a “candidate statement” for the fall 2015 SIAM elections. The comments I made then remain valid and so I thought it would be worth reproducing the statement here.

The January/February 2017 issue of SIAM News will contain my first From the SIAM President column, in which I give further thoughts on SIAM’s future.

I am happy to receive comments from SIAM members or potential members, either in the box below or by email.

Candidate Statement: SIAM is the leading international organization for applied mathematics and has been an important part of my professional life since I joined as a PhD student, 31 years ago. SIAM is the first place that many people turn to for publications, conferences, and news about applied mathematics and it represents the profession nationally and internationally.

I have been fortunate to be involved in the leadership for many years, having spent six years on the Council, eight years on the Board, and having recently served two terms as Vice President At Large (2010-2013).

SIAM faces a number of challenges that, if elected as President, I relish helping to address, working with SIAM members, SIAM officers, and the excellent SIAM staff.

SIAM’s publications remain strong, but are vulnerable to changes in the way scholarly journals operate (open access, article processing charges, etc.). SIAM needs to monitor the situation and respond appropriately, while striving to provide an even greater service to authors, referees and editors, for example by better use of web tools.

SIAM’s membership is also healthy, but SIAM must continue to enhance membership benefits and work hard to attract and retain student members, who are the future of the society, and to provide value for its members in industry.

Book sales are declining globally and in academic publishing it is becoming harder to find authors with the time to write a book. Nevertheless, the SIAM book program is in a strong position and the 2015 review of the program that I chaired has produced a list of recommendations that should help it to thrive.

SIAM conferences are a terrific place to learn about the latest developments in the subject, meet SIAM staff, browse SIAM books, and attend a business meeting. Attendances continue to grow (the SIAM CSE meeting in Salt Lake City last March was the largest ever SIAM meeting, with over 1700 attendees), but in any given year, the majority of SIAM’s 14,000 members do not attend a SIAM conference. Audio and slide captures of selected lectures are made available on SIAM Presents, but we need to do more to help members engage in virtual participation.

The SIAM web site has provided sterling service for a number of years, but is in need of a major redesign, which is underway. This is an excellent opportunity to integrate better the many services (conferences, journals, books, membership, activity groups, chapters, sections, etc.) in a responsive design. Beyond the core website, SIAM has a strong social media presence, posts a wide variety of videos on its YouTube channel, hosts SIAM Blogs (which I was involved in setting up in 2013), has recently made SIAM News available online, and has SIAM Connect and SIAM Unwrapped as further outlets. Optimizing the use of all these communication tools will be an ongoing effort.

These are just some of the challenges facing SIAM in the future as it continues to play a global leadership role for applied mathematics.

July 2015

Celebrating Charlie Van Loan

Charlie Van Loan, Joseph C. Ford Professor of Engineering in the Department of Computer Science at Cornell University, retires in summer 2016.

Charles Van Loan. The Entertainer. By Henk van der Vorst (linocut 2010)

Charlie has been a huge inspiration to me and many others, not least through his book Matrix Computations, with Gene Golub, now in its fourth edition. I wrote about the book on the occasion of the publication of the fourth edition (2013) in this previous post.

Following his PhD at the University of Michigan, Charlie visited the Department of Mathematics at the University of Manchester in 1974–1975 as a Science Research Council Research Fellow. He wrote the department’s first Numerical Analysis Report as well as three more of the first ten reports, as explained in this post.

A 55-minute video interview with Charlie by his colleague Kavita Bala, recorded in 2015, is available at the Cornell University eCommons. In it, Charlie talks about his PhD, with Cleve Moler as advisor, life as a young Cornell faculty member, the “GVL” book, computer science education, and many other things.


A two-part minisymposium is being held in Charlie’s honor at the SIAM Annual Meeting in Boston, July 11-14, 2016, organized by David Bindel (Cornell University) and Ilse Ipsen (North Carolina State University). I will be speaking in the second part about Charlie’s work on the matrix exponential. The details are below. If you will be at the meeting come and join us. I hope to provides links to the slides after the event.

SIAM Annual Meeting 2016.
Numerical Linear and Multilinear Algebra: Celebrating Charlie Van Loan.
Wednesday, July 13

Part I: MS73, MS89: 10:30 AM – 12:30 PM. BCEC Room 254B. Abstracts

  • 10:30-10:55 Parallel Tucker-Based Compression for Regular Grid Data, Tamara G. Kolda, Sandia National Laboratories, USA
  • 11:00-11:25 Cancer Diagnostics and Prognostics from Comparative Spectral Decompositions of Patient-Matched Genomic Profiles, Orly Alter, University of Utah, USA
  • 11:30-11:55 Exploiting Structure in the Simulation of Super Carbon Nanotubes, Christian H. Bischof, Technische Universität Darmstadt, Germany
  • 12:00-12:25 A Revisit to the GEMM-Based Level 3 BLAS and Its Impact on High Performance Matrix Computations abstract Bo T. Kågström, Umeå University, Sweden

Part II: MS92, 4:00 PM – 6:00 PM. BCEC Room 254B. Abstracts

  • 4:00-4:25 Charlie Van Loan and the Matrix Exponential, Nicholas J. Higham, University of Manchester, United Kingdom
  • 4:30-4:55 Nineteen Dubious Ways to Compute the Zeros of a Polynomial, Cleve Moler, The MathWorks, Inc., USA
  • 5:00-5:25 The Efficient Computation of Dense Derivative Matrices in MATLAB Using ADMAT and Why Sparse Linear Solvers Can Help, Thomas F. Coleman, University of Waterloo, Canada
  • 5:30-5:55 On Rank-One Perturbations of a Rotation, Robert Schreiber, Hewlett-Packard Laboratories, USA

Acronymous Thoughts

According to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary (COD, 11th ed., 2004), “An acronym is a word formed from the initial letters of other words”. Here are some well-known examples.

  • AIDS: acquired immune deficiency syndrome,
  • laser: light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation,
  • radar: radio detection and ranging,
  • scuba: self-contained underwater breathing apparatus,
  • snafu: situation normal all fouled up,
  • sonar: sound navigation and ranging,
  • UNESCO: United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization,
  • WYSIWYG: what you see is what you get.

There is even a recursive acronym, GNU, standing for “GNU’s not Unix”.

Image courtesy of smarnad at

On close inspection, the OED definition is imprecise in two respects. First, can we take more than one letter from each word? The definition doesn’t say, but the examples radar and sonar make it clear that we can. Second, do we have to take the initial letters from the words in their original order. This is clearly the accepted meaning. Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (10th ed., 1993) provides a more precise definition that covers both points, by saying “formed from the initial letter or letters of each of the successive parts or major parts of a compound term”.

In common with many fields, applied mathematics has a lot of acronyms. It also has a good number of the most elegant of acronyms: those that take exactly one letter from each word, such as

  • BLAS: basic linear algebra subprograms,
  • DCT: discrete cosine transform,
  • FSAL: first same as last,
  • MIMO: multi-input multi-output,
  • NaN: not a number,
  • PDE: partial differential equation,
  • SIRK: singly-implicit Runge-Kutta,
  • SVD: singular value decomposition.

New acronyms are regularly formed in research papers. Non-native speakers are advised to be careful in doing so, as their constructions may have unsuspected meanings. The authors of this article in Chemical Communcations managed to get two exceptionally inappropriate acronyms into print, and one wonders how these escaped the referees and editor.

Another question left open by the definitions mentioned above is whether an acronym has to be pronounceable. The big Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed., 2015) lists two meanings, which allow an acronym to be pronounceable or unpronounceable. The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage (5th ed., 2015) says “unless pronounced as a word, an abbreviation is not an acronym”, while the Style Guide of The Economist (11th ed., 2015) also requires pronounceability, as do various other references.

Apart from SIAM (Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics), not many mathematics societies have pronounceable acronyms. In the “pronounced by letter” camp we have, for example,

  • AMS: American Mathematical Society
  • AWM: Association for Women in Mathematics
  • EMS: European Mathematical Society
  • IMA: Institute of Mathematics and its Applications
  • IMU: International Mathematical Union
  • LMS: London Mathematical Society
  • MAA: Mathematical Association of America
  • MPS: Mathematical Programming Society

SIAM’s founders chose well when they named the society in 1952! Indeed the letters S, I, A, M have proved popular, forming in a different order the acronyms of the more recent bodies SMAI (La Société de Mathématiques Appliquées et Industrielles) and AIMS (the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences).

A situation where (near) acronyms are particularly prevalent is in research proposals, where a catchy acronym in the title is often felt to be an advantage. I suspect that in many cases the title is chosen to fit the acronym. Indeed there is now a word to describe this practice. In 2015 the OED added the word backronym (first occurrence in 1983), which refers to “a contrived explanation of an existing word’s origin, positing it as an acronym”. One backronym is “SOS”; see Wikipedia and this article by John Cook for more examples.

The Acronym Finder website does a good job of finding the meaning of an acronym, often returning multiple results. For SIAM it produces 17 definitions, of which the “top hit” is the expected one—and at least one is rather unexpected!

Conference Photo Highlights of 2015

Here are my five favourite photos taken at conferences that I attended in 2015.

Salt Lake City

The SIAM Conference on Computational Science and Engineering, held in Salt Lake City in March, was the largest SIAM conference ever, with almost 1600 attendees. This photo shows co-chair Chris Johnson being interviewed for a SIAM video. Sonja Stark (PilotGirl Productions) is on the camera, Adam Bauser (Bauser Media Group) is conducting the interview, and SIAM Public Awareness Officer Karthika Swamy Cohen is standing far right. This team has produced many excellent videos, which can be found on SIAM’s YouTube channel. See, in particular, CSE15 Poster Sizzle and I Use Math For…. 150317-1417-06-2328.jpg


The SIAM Conference on Applied Linear Algebra was held in Atlanta in October at the Hyatt Regency hotel. The hotel has a very impressive design with a large atrium overlooked by walkways off which the rooms are situated. This photo was taken looking down into the atrium from one corner, showing the pink light that illuminated this structure during the hours of darkness. 151028-0151-16-3180.jpg I rarely take wildlife photographs, not least due to lack of time, but occasionally an opportunity presents itself. The next image was captured just two blocks from the conference hotel, thanks to an unusually tame buzzard who was happy to pose for my camera. 151029-1956-20-3281.jpg


I gave the after-dinner talk at the 26th Biennial Conference on Numerical Analysis in Glasgow last June (see this post for more details, and this Storify of the conference). The conference dinner was held in the Òran Mór, a converted church in the west end of Glasgow. The next photo shows the impressive venue as it was being set up. 150625-1916-33-2809.jpg


In August, many of us gathered in Oxford to celebrate Nick Trefethen’s 60th birthday, at the New Directions in Numerical Computation conference. I very much like this photo, which shows Andy Wathen contemplating one of life’s deeper questions: the linear system of equations Ax=b. A Storify of the conference is available. 150826-0954-20-3015.jpg