New math consulting centre will save heartaches

Patrick Boily is the manager of Carleton’s new math consulting centre. (Kristy Strauss Photo)

Mathematical calculations may not be able to help you fall in love, but they can save you a lot of heartache, says Patrick Boily, manager of Carleton University’s new math consulting centre.

The new centre will do just that, he says. Launched last month, the Centre for Quantitative Analysis and Decision Support (CQADS) offers Carleton University’s mathematicians for hire to help businesses use math to avoid making administrative mistakes.

“For a lot of people, mathematics is … very scary, or useless.” But for business owners, he points out, math can be essential in making important decisions.

For example, the City of Ottawa may face a math problem with plowing snow, adds Patrick Farrell, the director of the School of Mathematics and Statistics. If the city wants to clear all the snow and use the least amount of snow plows and gas, it needs to find a route that avoids clearing the same street more than once.

In such a case, the City of Ottawa could work with a Carleton mathematician to find the best route.

The centre tries to “come up with a mathematical equation to deal with real world phenomen[a],” Farrell says.

In other cases, the centre can help create and make sense of surveys or show businesses how to spread their staff out across stores and/or departments to be most profitable.

For businesses with enough time and resources to do the math themselves, Farrell says the centre has something for them too. It will offer workshops and seminars about mathematical approaches to decision-making.

“We’re hoping to play a role in educating the population and say … here is an instance where we should probably think about this in a different way, in a quantitative way,” explains Boily.

Staffed by Carleton University graduate students, post-doctoral students and math department faculty members, CQADS offers help with quantitative analysis: which refers to making sense of research involving numbers and statistics.

The centre is open to anyone with such quantitative questions – Carleton students and faculty seeking help with research and projects, or businesses looking for the best way to use their resources.

“The ultimate goal is to better connect faculty and students inside the school with the community,” says Malcolm Butler, the dean of the Faculty of Science.

Frequent calls from the community to the math department concerning real-life math problems are what sparked the idea for the centre.

The lack of similar academic centres in the Eastern Ontario region meant there was need in Ottawa, Butler explains.

From a father calling for help with his son’s science project to a retired engineer looking for mathematical formulas to help him safely weld a nuclear reactor tube, the centre started its work with the community weeks before the official launch.

As it grows, Boily hopes the money CQADS earns will be able to go back into Carleton University, in the form of graduate funding, scholarships, and pay for the students the centre employs.

The CQADS team’s ultimate goal is to show everyone that math is a tool that benefits decision makers, Boily says.

“Making mistakes happens. Making mistakes that could have been easily avoided [with math] is harder to justify.”

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