A coffee with...

Published on March 20th, 2013 | by Stephanie

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Matthew Tam

Position: Mathematics PhD Student, University of Newcastle.

How do you introduce yourself at parties?
Hi I’m Matthew Tam…. Yes like Tim Tams.

Why mathematics?
The best way to understand something better is to take it apart and see how it works. Mathematical models are used in almost every discipline, in some way or another, and allow us to do exactly this. Furthermore, the same “take it apart” approach applies to abstract mathematical objects themselves.

Do you think that mathematicians deserve the “geek” tag?
I’ve seen mathematicians in everything from suits, to “socks and sandals”, so I think there’s some truth to the tag. But who said that it’s such a bad thing?

What area of mathematics and why?
My honours thesis was on projection methods, these are techniques which can solve various optimisation problems. A notable example of their use was the reconstruction of spherically aberrated images from the Hubble telescope’s misassembled mirror, until repairs could be performed. For certain types of problems, these methods are known to always give the desired solution. However, more recently, they have been applied to problems not satisfying the required conditions, with excellent results.
The applications are fueling the need for better theoretical understanding.

I’m interested in trying to better understand these methods, the conditions under which they work, and why.

What has maths done for you lately?
I was fortunate enough to spend January at the AMSI Summer School hosted by the University of Melbourne. I really enjoyed the courses I took, and it was a fantastic experience to meet, and live with, other young mathematicians from around Australia.

Do you have a favourite application or theory of maths?
I don’t have a single favourite, but one would be the Brouwer fixed point theorem. A surprising “real world” consequence of the theorem is the following: If you drop a map of your country on the floor then there will be a point on the map which is directly above the point which it refers to.[subscribe2]

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