Department of Mathematical Sciences

Integrative Think TanksEPSRC logo

Integrative Think Tanks (ITTs) are our flagship activity, and were pioneered and developed by staff in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at the University of Bath.

They centre around the fundamental idea of problem formulation, bringing people together to collaboratively develop approaches to applied challenges.

The ITTs provide training to SAMBa students, but they also generate ideas that can be jointly pursued between academics and industrial partners, and lead to direct impact in terms of applications and research.

"We are working with SAMBa to improve the efficiency of our drug development, by optimising the size of our clinical trials and making better use of the data we collect. Working with the SAMBa students and academics is very rewarding and they add new ideas to help our business. I was very impressed with the Think Tank, and pleasantly surprised at how much was achieved in such a short space of time. I would recommend this approach to any potential industry partners looking to breathe new ideas into their business."
Dr Alun Bedding, Statistical Science Director, AstraZeneca

Concept

participants-at-ittITTs are facilitated, week-long workshops involving around 80 participants. They include postgraduate students, academics from mathematical sciences, application-focused researchers, and collaborators from around the world.

Participants are presented with high level challenges from non-mathematical partners and work in small groups to formulate them into mathematical problems.

It is not the aim of an ITT to solve problems, but to identify routes to a solution and the mechanisms to take them forward. These could be long-term projects through PhD studentships or research grants, or short-term projects, which can run as a secondment for SAMBa or non-SAMBa students.

In practice

ITTs take place twice a year in January and June. Each ITT welcomes two partners that are identified at least four months prior to the event to enable preparatory work to take place.

The build-up takes place through a student-led symposia series, where partners give SAMBa students and other ITT participants a preliminary overview of the problems that they would like to bring to the ITT.

In collaboration with academic staff, students identify the background information that is required to prepare for the ITT. This could include expert lectures, training in software, or mini courses. The programme is organised by the students themselves.

See what the ITT experience is like

Impact and outcomes

One of the major successes of ITTs is that the ideas generated are truly collaborative and ownership is shared between all the researchers involved. This means that each ITT continues to deliver long after the event has taken place.

Outcomes of previous ITTs include:

  • jointly funded studentships
  • joint research proposals
  • student projects
  • reading courses
  • consultancy work

Get in touch if you are interested in being part of an ITT.

Case studies

Developing research with Amec Foster Wheeler

"We are working with SAMBa to design more efficient methods for uncertainty quantification and new ways of looking at Monte Carlo simulation of neutron and photon transport in matter. The SAMBa atmosphere is very exciting, the staff are innovative and committed and the students are enthusiastic and talented. The mixture of mathematicians and probabilists is opening up exciting new approaches."
Professor Paul Smith, Technical Lead for Modelling and Software, Wood

Amec Foster Wheeler is a multinational engineering company. Through Ivan Graham and Rob Scheichl, the Department of Mathematical Sciences has had a long term interaction with Amec Foster Wheeler, including a number of jointly funded PhD projects. In particular, collaboration has been with the ANSWERS® Software Service within the company that provides technical consulting and develops state of the art software for the nuclear industry including reactor physics, criticality and shielding applications.

Given the historic success in PhD projects, Amec Foster Wheeler were very keen to be involved in a SAMBa ITT. Consequently, they were partners at ITT2 and, with Rob and Ivan, developed a programme of training through the preceding symposia series to ensure the SAMBa students had good background in the physics concepts and Monte Carlo methods that were required to make good progress at the ITT itself. The symposia were attended by a range of academic experts from the department and this led to the realisation that taking a probabilistic approach to a long-standing modelling problem, could have significant benefits.

At ITT2 itself, different teams pursued Amec Foster Wheeler problems. Some used similar methods that have traditionally been employed on these research challenges, others took a completely different probabilistic approach. Both were highly successful and have each led to a jointly funded PhD project and a large scale research proposal.

Without the collaborative nature of SAMBa, and hard work on all sides to share expertise and define a common language, these potentially very significant strides forward would not have been possible.

The breadth and depth of the relationship between the Department and Amec Foster Wheeler have strengthened immeasurably and will continue to grow as the research progresses.

Networking with BT

"BT's wireless research team is currently enjoying a fruitful collaboration with SAMBa mathematicians in the area of interference control for wireless systems, specifically targeting the development of algorithms for the new 4G technology. In the longer term we expect such algorithms to improve the user experience in 4G networks."
Dr Keith Briggs, Senior Mathematician, BT

BT is the UK’s national telecommunications company, with a track record of investment in University research over decades, and involving leading institutions in the UK, USA and China. Their links with Bath have in the past primarily been via short-term placements for students on our Masters course in Modern Applications of Mathematics.

From the wide range of BT’s activities in the UK and beyond, it was clear that BT had a range of problems that could potentially lead to collaborative research projects. In order to identify those that SAMBa could most effectively pursue, a team of academics from the Department visited BT’s Research & Innovation Centre at Adastral Park, Ipswich in February 2014 to discuss research ideas in a facilitated environment and discuss routes to pursue them further. From this discussion day a number of challenge areas were identified, and BT was invited to take part in ITT1 in January 2015.

BT personnel came to talk to the SAMBa students over the course of the symposia series during the Autumn of 2014, prior to ITT1. During the week six BT staff attended the ITT, presenting a range of problems and working alongside the SAMBa students to formulate and refine the research questions

A number of projects were identified through the ITT, including a co-funded PhD project, to run alongside SAMBa, involving Keith Briggs, Senior Mathematician at BT, as a project supervisor. Following the ITT, Chris Budd and Mike Fitch from BT successfully applied for an EPSRC CASE award from the Smith Institute, to continue a project discussed at the ITT.

BT and Bath continue to work together to explore new projects.

Flying high with GKN and Airbus

"Working with SAMBa students to relay how our industry understands the daily challenges in aerospace design and manufacture and for them to translate them into statistical/mathematical models and methods was a refreshing and rewarding concept. The prospective students demonstrated their creative and collaborative skills to propose alternative solutions that, if applied further, could bring worthwhile results for our business."
Dr Kaido Kaal, ‎Aerospace Quality Manager, GKN Aerospace

GKN is a British multinational automotive and aerospace components company. Their aerospace division has been working closely with the Mechanical Engineering department at the University of Bath, particularly through their jointly sponsored (with the Royal Academy of Engineering) Chair, Richard Butler for a number of years. Through Richard’s research collaboration with Rob Scheichl from the Department of Mathematical Sciences, GKN became partners at ITT3, along with their collaborators from Airbus.

The GKN/Airbus partnership presented problems on materials design, particularly in developing robust methods for testing structures and parts of aircraft wings. These were addressed using a combination of statistical and modelling methods and have cemented collaboration between Mechanical Engineering and Mathematical Sciences.

Following the ITT, small projects and discussions continued between the academic departments, including some consultancy work for Airbus and their collaborator, N12 Technologies. This continued collaboration led to the funding of three PhD studentships, based in Mechanical Engineering, but with links to SAMBa, which began in 2017. Of these studentships, two are jointly funded by GKN and the EPSRC NPIF, and the other is jointly funded by Airbus and N12.

Space weather modelling with the Met Office

"The SAMBa approach was a great template for setting up a productive, creative and collaborative atmosphere. The commitment of the students in getting involved with unfamiliar areas of research and applying their experience towards producing solutions was very impressive."
Dr Mike Marsh, Space weather researcher, Met Office

The UK Met Office provides weather and climate services across the UK and the world. Building on existing collaborations with the department, members of their climate statistics (partnered with Finn Lindgren on the EU-funded EUSTACE project) and space weather groups (collaborating with Chris Budd) attended SAMBa’s 3rd ITT.

Edmund Henley from the space weather group attended the ITT for a full week and describes the experience: “The ITT explored several areas which pose problems for space weather R&D – namely improving statistical models for forecasting geomagnetic storms, novel probabilistic forecasts for radiation storms, and handling adaptive grids in ensemble assimilation systems. There was some overhead in bringing SAMBa participants up-to-speed on relevant science, but this was definitely worthwhile – not only did this force us to think through and clarify the issues, but we also benefitted from the result – the wealth of knowledge and tools the enthusiastic participants could bring to bear meant they could frequently propose solutions we could not have found ourselves.”

Analysing risk with DNV GL

"We are working with SAMBa to develop new tools for managing risk by combining deterministic and probabilistic methods."
Dr David Worthington, Head of Risk & Reliability Mathematical Modelling, DNV GL

DNV GL are a multi-national risk analysis company, working across a wide range of sectors. They first began working with the Department of Mathematical Sciences in 2013 through jointly funding a project, led by Tony Shardlow, through the University’s Impact Acceleration Accountto investigate new approaches to risk assessment. This IAA project funded a postdoc who is now a lecturer at the University of Warwick.

Following this short-term, applied Maths project, DNV GL were keen to get involved with some longer-term fundamental mathematics research in order to improve their processes further. This was enabled through attending the first SAMBa Integrative Think Tank (ITT) in January 2015. DNV GL worked with the SAMBa students in the weeks leading up to the ITT, training them on their software and giving them an introduction to the company, its priorities and the challenges it faces.

Two representatives from DNV GL attended the ITT, and presented quite different problems. One was solved during the ITT week and an extension of this work is now being pursued by the Bath Institute for Mathematical Innovation. The second project developed into a PhD project, which runs alongside SAMBa from October 2015.

The relationship with DNV GL is continuing through links to other research projects in the Department and a continuing relationship with SAMBa.

Previous ITTs

Spin off ITTs