A coffee with...

Published on April 12th, 2013 | by Jo

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Claire Trenham

At MPE Australia, we decided to have a coffee – a herbal tea on a couple of occasions – with as many different people as we could to quiz them all about maths: what they do with it, how they perceive it and why or if they think it is important.

Name: Claire Trenham

Institution/company: Wave climate modelling at CSIRO Marine & Atmospheric Research

How do you introduce yourself at parties?

When asked about my profession at social events, I usually introduce myself as a scientist. Any further elaboration on my role depends on the level of interest shown by others, but I do tend to try to avoid some words!

Do you think that mathematicians deserve the “geek” tag?

Yes!! I’m pretty sure I’m a geek. There’s nothing wrong with being a bit different and loving things that many people don’t get, embrace it and be proud of it!

How do you use maths in your organization/work?

Mostly the computer uses maths for me, which is nice because it means we can solve things that couldn’t be calculated by hand!

There are two sides of maths to my job. The first are the equations governing wave formation, evolution and dissipation, for which we need a computer model to simulate numerically. These equations rely on calculus and the physics of fluid mechanics. There’s also lots of mathematics in how the computer numerically solves the model.

The second aspect comes in once we’ve run our wave model and we have a simulated set of waves in an area. We use statistics to study their properties, and can even theoretically calculate the biggest waves possible based on those we’ve simulated. We also do statistical comparisons between our modelled data and real observed wave data from buoys, satellites, or modelled by other groups. We’re also interested in how waves can contribute to storm surges and coastal inundation.

What has maths done for you lately?

Maths gives me a sense of enjoyment in playing with the cute little logic and number problems I come across in day to day life. Thinking mathematically helps me recognise patterns which is a definite aid to most learning and problem-solving situations. In fact one of the best things maths has done for me even today, is give me any information I want in an incredibly short time through very clever internet search algorithms!

Do you have a favourite application or theory of maths? And if you do, why is it so?

There are some parts of maths that always grab me – the beauty and intricacy of fractals, the simplicity but power of the unit circle for teaching, and of course the ability to understand and predict the physical world through often simple equations like Newton’s Laws of Motion, even while simple ideas and structures can produce the most complex of outcomes, as in chaos theory. But no, I really couldn’t say I have a favourite!

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