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Wilfrid Laurier University Office of Research Services
April 16, 2014
 
 
Canadian Excellence


Rod Melnik, Canada Research Chair in Mathematical Modeling at Laurier

Rod Melnik: "Mathematics research - your nationality is immaterial"



“Mathematics,” says Rod Melnik, “is a discipline without borders, and one of the most fundamental ingredients of human civilization. It requires international connections.”

Melnik, holder of a Tier I Canada Research Chair in Mathematical Modeling at Laurier, says the stereotype of a mathematician toiling away in solitude armed with little more than a bunch of pencils and a pad of paper is long dead.

“More and more, mathematicians are working with teams of researchers,” he says, because different researchers bring different expertise to the table. “This allows us to advance the areas of science and technology that we could not have even dreamt of advancing relatively recently. Mathematical sciences are major contributors to these exciting new developments.”

Melnik works in several areas of research, including multi-scaled coupled systems.

What does that mean?

To give an example of coupled systems, just remember that the world is interconnected. For example, a warmer ocean current on one side of the planet might mean a drought on the other side. That’s a coupled system.

Such systems are often characterized by new properties, not found in their components, which interact at many different spatial and temporal scales. They are multi-scale. What humanity is doing to contribute to global warming might not impact us in our life-time (one scale), but may impact future generations (a longer scale).

Melnik works on mathematical models that describe these multi-scaled coupled systems, which could include scales ranging from nanometre-sized (a human hair is about 100,000 nanometres in diameter) to climate-sized.

Clearly, when you’re dealing with science and technology on such a tiny scale as nanometres, “it’s not sufficient any more to rely only on the models we’ve used since the time of Newton,” says Melnik. Among Melnik’s co-authors in the area of the development of state-of-the-art mathematical models for nanoscience and nanotechnology are physicists, engineers, materials scientists, and biologists. One of the recent projects in Melnik’s M2NeT Lab (http://www.m2netlab.wlu.ca) involves studying the properties of an RNA nanostructure -- a ribonucleic acid-based structure of about 15 nanometres in diameter – which is certainly a “less-traditional application of mathematics.”

“I would not be able to do this research without my colleague Bruce Shapiro from the Nanobiology Program of the National Cancer Institute in Maryland,” Melnik says. He also has active collaborations on his other research projects with people in Massachusetts, Ohio, India, Denmark, Latvia, Germany, Australia and China.

And while the internet and email have made international collaboration vastly easier than it was just 15 years ago, strong reasons remain for collaborators to occasionally get together in the same room.

“Different inputs need to be expressed face-to-face,” Melnik says. Interactions are important: an equation written on a whiteboard can be modified instantly by a collaborator standing in front of it. Back and forth work like that still takes time on a computer.

A Ukrainian-born Australian mathematician, Roderick Melnik moved from Sydney to Denmark to head the mathematical modelling unit at the University of Southern Denmark. Melnik held full professorship positions in Denmark and the USA before coming to Laurier in 2004.