Few things in nature are as dramatic, and potentially dangerous, as ocean waves. The impact they have on our daily lives extends from shipping to the role they play in driving the global climate. From a theoretical viewpoint water waves pose rich challenges: solutions to the equations that describe fluid motion are elusive, and whether they even exist in the most general case is one of the hardest unanswered questions in mathematics.
When the mathematician AK Erlang first used probability theory to model telephone networks in the early twentieth century he could hardly have imagined that the science he founded would one day help solve a most pressing global
problem: how to wean ourselves off fossil fuels and switch to renewable energy sources.
Artificial neural networks grew out of researchers' attempts to mimick the human brain. In 1997 the Isaac Newton Institute hosted a landmark research programme in the area. Today, neural networks are able to learn how to perform complex tasks and are crucial in many areas of life, from medicine to the Xbox.
Many people's impression of mathematics is that it is an ancient edifice built on centuries of research. However, modern quantitative finance, an area of mathematics with such a great impact
on all our lives, is just a few decades old. The Isaac Newton Institute quickly recognised its
importance and has already run two seminal
programmes, in 1995 and 2005, supporting
research in the field of mathematical finance.
Progress in pure mathematics has its own tempo. Major questions may remain open for decades, even centuries, and once an answer has been found, it can take a collaborative effort of many mathematicians in the field to check
that it is correct. The New Contexts for Stable Homotopy Theory programme, held at the Institute in 2002, is a prime example of how its research programmes can benefit researchers and its lead to landmark results.
The Strong Fields, Integrability and Strings
programme, which took place at the Isaac
Newton Institute in 2007, explored an area that
would have been close to Isaac Newton's heart:
how to unify Einstein's theory of gravity, a
continuation of Newton's own work on
gravitation, with quantum field theory, which
describes the atomic and sub-atomic world, but
cannot account for the force of gravity.