Here's How a Hedge Fortune Is Underwriting Research on Swarms

When individual molecules or organisms interact on large scales, whether a swarm of locusts or patterns appearing in fluid, bizarre and amazing things can happen, with dynamics that we don’t understand all that well. It’s a fitting problem for one of the Simons Foundation’s grants encouraging collaboration in mathematics.  

Harvey Mudd Professor Andrew Bernoff will receive $35,000 as part of the Collaboration Grants for Mathematics program. It's one of the Simons Foundation’s smaller grantmaking initiatives in terms of grant size, but not in number of awards. The program gives smaller grants to several researchers, to be spread over five years, as a way to encourage travel and interaction among mathematicians. They are small, but they are many, with around 125 recipients in 2013. 

Bernoff is interested in fluid mechanics and swarming of animals in nature, reflected in his current research titled “Discrete & Continuous Models of Non-local Chemical and Biological Systems.” He focuses on mathematical modeling of patterns that emerge in biology and physics.

He was recognized last year by the journal Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) for his paper "A Primer on Swarm Equilibria," in which he created a mathematical model for destructive swarms of locusts.

The way that millions of tiny organisms join together to form a giant cloud with a seemingly singular purpose has long puzzled scientists, and has implications well beyond locusts. Bernoff is also interested in similar phenomena in the elaborate patterns that form in magnetic fluids.  

The grant from Simons will allow Bernoff to take his work on the road, assembling a community of scientists putting their heads together on work that involves multiple disciplines.   

“By working with a network of biologists, physicists, mathematicians and a swarm of bright Harvey Mudd undergraduates, we are unraveling the mysteries of the elaborate patterns we see in biological and physical systems,” he said in a university release.  

The Simons collaboration grants are pretty small chunks of money compared to the prominent science funder's other projects. Spread out over five years, it’s about $7,000 per year. But it’s a great little shot of support to bring a line of research from one lab or desktop, to breathe new life into its ideas, or bombard it with staff from other departments. Simons describes the goal as fostering a “mathematical marketplace” of brilliant minds interacting. 

Collaboration Grants provide $5,000 per year for collaboration, travel and research costs, plus $1,000 in discretionary funds and another $1,000 to the grantee’s institution. Learn more about the grants here, and more IP coverage of the Simons Foundation below. 

Simons Foundation: Grants for Science Research

Simons Foundation: Grants for Brain Research and Treatment

Yuri Tschinkel, Simons Foundation