Solving real life problems with just a computer, pen and paper
“For my bachelor's I had to choose between Biomedical Technology and Applied Mathematics (AM), both taught at University of Twente. I eventually chose AM and found it so fascinating and challenging that I completed the Master's as well. The great thing about mathematics is that it can be applied to many different fields without the need for complicated equipment; a computer and pen & paper are enough.
PROJECTS WITH REAL LIFE IMPACT
During my studies, I not only learned theory but also put that knowledge into practice by writing assignments. I remember a project during my bachelor's in which we got an assignment from a company that researched data of different layers in the ground to predict earthquakes. In our assignment, we had to predict the location of boundary lines between strata based on measurements at a number of points in the ground. It was so exciting to work with a company at the beginning of my studies. I found it fascinating to see how to apply your knowledge to a real life case and how mathematics can truly have an impact on society.
These days, I supervise bachelor's and master's students myself and hope to pass on my enthusiasm for mathematics. One of my students was researching network models for constellations, looking for a mathematical understanding of how constellations are drawn. Another student is researching epidemic models on networks whose connections can change (e.g. due to lockdown). It is interesting to see how students differently approach the concept of networks and how I can give my input as researcher and supervisor.
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Networks: From social media, the internet to your brain
I like to communicate my research to a wider audience through blogs, public lectures and teaching. My specialisation lies in probability theory and network science, combined with numerical experiments that investigate large networks. Applications include social media, but also the internet or networks in your brain.
The spread of a process across a network fascinates me and it appears to be a very topical subject. One of my recent studies focused on contact research, by calculating how much contact research reduces the reproduction number of a virus during a pandemic. Does this depend on our network of social contacts? For another study I looked at the functioning of a network: which small connection patterns are most important for the functioning of a network? In networks in your body, these small patterns can give clues to the presence of mutations in your cells, but on social media, they can indicate the presence of trolls. That is the beauty of mathematics: one theoretical question, but two different real world applications.
Mathematical research is abstract because you work with models and equations and you do not know much about the applications yourself. In practice, you therefore often work together with colleagues from other fields of expertise. During my studies, I learned how to work in such multidisciplinary teams.
This year I received a Veni grant, which allows me to do three years of research into networks with 'high dimensional geometry'. These are social networks in which you have a lot of information about all the members. I am researching which small patterns in these networks are important for the functioning of the network. I also hope to be able to go to conferences soon to discuss research with other scientists, I am looking forward to that!”