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Discovering the mathematical landscape

According to Professor Hans Munthe-Kaas, the science of mathematics is like climbing a mountaintop and discovering new landscapes. He is now in the final round for an ERC Advanced Grant.

Hans Munthe-Kaas
AN INTERNATIONAL CAPACITY: Hans Munthe-Kaas is internationally acknowledged for describing how objects, like planets, move in time and space.
Photo:
Kim E. Andreassen

Have you ever wondered why birds fly in plough formation? When birds fly, whirlwind occurs behind their wings. This means that the birds behind get an extra push, if positioned in the right angle.

Hans Munthe-Kaas is a professor at the Department of Mathematics at the University of Bergen (UiB). When he is out for a walk, mathematical equations often pop up in his head when confronting natural phenomena, like patterns in running water and strange cloud formations. All these can be described mathematically.

“Mathematics is a general language that may describe different phenomena. Innovation in mathematics means describing new areas and mathematical landscapes,” Munthe-Kaas explains.

Munthe-Kaas is in the final round for the prestigious Advanced Grant from the European Research Council (ERC). His goal is to gather a group of top-notch researchers from different mathematical disciplines. By sharing experience, these bright minds plan to expand the mathematical language.

Internationally leading research environment

Munthe-Kaas is a professor in computational mathematics, and deals with solving mathematical problems by using computers. He is internationally acknowledged for describing how objects, like planets, move in time and space. Munthe-Kaas has thus elaborated pioneer ideas from the Norwegian giants of mathematics, Nils Henrik Abel and Sophus Lie.

“Whenever you do a calculation with a computer, small errors occur. It is not always the size of the error that is important. Some errors are more serious than others, and we work continuously to improve mathematical models to analyse errors of calculation,” says Munthe-Kaas.

Research driven by curiosity

Even if Munthe-Kaas is doing science on its most basic level, his research has had huge practical importance, by making computer models that simulate movement backwards and forwards in time. For instance, his models can deal with how to calculate the course of the planets millions of years ago, to understand the climate of the past. To change the course of satellites, accurate calculations are critical.

His research has had direct impact on understanding how data are stored on hard disks and how to prevent “noise” on MR images. He is also working on a project in which he plans to describe how the Oslo stock exchange moves.

“The joy and excitement of making new discoveries is what drives me to do this every day. If someone says my research is useful, I would consider it as a pure bonus,” says Hans Munthe-Kaas.