The IMIs mission was to foster advanced research in areas of mathematics having the capacity or potential for industrial application, and for the purpose of facilitating the transfer of research results and expertise between the academic, government and industrial sectors.
The IMI addressed problems of critical importance to both the United States and the State of South Carolina. It was one of the world’s leading centers for image and signal processing — areas of significant commercial and military application — and one of the University’s main hubs for numerical computation, involving both large- and multi-scale methods. The research areas of the IMI meshed in meaningful ways with those targeted by the State and University in nanoscience, biotechnology, and telecommunications.
During the mid-1980s, Drs. Colin Bennett, Ronald A. DeVore, and Robert Sharpley, Department of Mathematics, University of South Carolina, recognized that their research had great potential for application to industrial problems. To facilitate the transfer of this technology, they set out to build a bridge between the academic setting and industry, not only to transfer mathematical innovations, but to receive in return a better understanding of industrial problems. This was the inception of the Industrial Mathematics Initiative (IMI) which was later formalized in the Department of Mathematics’ 1990 Strategic Plan.
A major impetus to the IMI came through a National Science Foundation EPSCoR grant awarded to the Department of Mathematics in 1992 (Industrial Mathematics Initiative, NSF, 1992-1997, C. Bennett (PI), B. Dahlberg, R.A. DeVore, B.D. Jawerth, R. Sharpley (co-PIs)). This award, which launched the Industrial Mathematics Initiative, was the first in a series of large grants obtained by the Department, and supported the creation of five positions in applied mathematics to address mathematical research directed at industrial problems.
By 1999, the IMI had increased in membership and research funding. The Department recognized that further progress required the formal establishment of the IMI as an institute. Approval for this designation was given by the Faculty Advisory Committee of the Department of Mathematics in January 1999. A formal petition for Institute designation by the Commission on Higher Education (CHE) was initiated in January 2000 and granted by the CHE in March 2000. Under the Directorship of Dr. Ronald A. DeVore (the IMI’s Founding Director), the Industrial Mathematics Initiative became the Industrial Mathematics Institute.
In Spring 2007, the Industrial Mathematics Institute was reviewed by an external panel. Following the panel’s recommendations, a request was submitted in December 2008 proposing the name change to Interdisciplinary Mathematics Institute. This name change was intended to reflect and highlight the role that the institute plays in interdisciplinary research collaborations within the University of South Carolina as well as its historical relations with industry. This request was approved by the Board of Trustees in March 2009. Several months later, the IMI separated from the Department of Mathematics, resulting in a standalone unit within the College of Arts and Sciences.
From its modest beginning, the IMI grew over the years to include 27 regular members affiliated with the University of South Carolina, 3 associate members from other institutions, and a Scientific Advisory Board made up of seven prominent scientists and corporate officers from different entities.
Throughout its existence, the IMI generated substantial external grant funding from federal and state agencies and industry. Much of this funding came from the Department of Defense and National Science Foundation. A number of IMI members have collaborated on large interdisciplinary projects with science and engineering researchers at premier institutions nationwide. The role of the IMI was to deliver innovative and advanced mathematics to these projects.
In addition to a basic operating budget provided by the College, the IMI operated largely on grants awarded to IMI members and a portion of the generated overhead. These resources provided travel, equipment and salary for postdoctoral researchers and graduate and undergraduate research students associated with the Institute, as well as start-up monies for new faculty. Visiting scholars and speakers were also funded from the same source.
In its role as a leader in interdisciplinary mathematics research, the IMI organized prominent scientific workshops in cutting edge research, and sponsored a Distinguished Lecture Series and multiple working and general Seminar Series. In addition, its members have published a series of IMI Preprints