Dr Lars Schewe, Reader in Operational Research at the School of Mathematics, was seconded to the Edinburgh Earth Initiative in 2022/23, helping to foster connections between the School of Mathematics, other Schools across the University, and external partners – a collaboration that can potentially translate to large funding bids in the future.

Last week, Lars attended the Offshore Wind Strategy Workshop hosted at the Edinburgh Climate Change Institute. He collaborated with academics across different disciplines to address the area of offshore renewable energy at the University. “I think workshops like these highlight the importance of communication between mathematicians and other disciplines to tackle complex, real-life problems like electrical networks. The way we communicate our models can help deal with decision-making under uncertainty.”

Here we hear from Lars about his experience as a secondee with the Edinburgh Earth Initiative and how mathematics is an essential tool in tackling the climate crisis.

How do you think more mathematicians can get involved in the fight for our planet? 

Lars: ‘We have many mathematicians willing to engage actively with the climate crisis. The main obstacle is that, in many cases, it is often difficult to explain the value that mathematics can bring. There is also the issue of the intermediate barriers that impede communication – for example, people often talk to engineers, who then talk to mathematicians, instead of approaching the mathematicians directly in the first place. That said, this is slowly getting better, as an increasing number of people are seeing how data science and AI can help solve some of the pressing climate issues. Earlier, there was this perception that general mathematicians do not really have the knowledge to add value to domain-specific issues. But this, as I said, is slowly changing.’  

How did you first get involved with the Edinburgh Earth Initiative? 

Lars: ‘I had always been a part of the discussions around Energy@Ed, and I knew Jamie via that, well before the Edinburgh Earth Initiative was instituted. My secondment stemmed from the plans I had of working internally with the School of Mathematics and also with the School of Geosciences. The discussion was that it would be good to have some dedicated time to work on those plans, and the secondment has helped on that front. Further, I joined the University in 2019, and I had just enough time to get to know people before we entered the lockdown. So, I saw the secondment as an opportunity to get to know people outside my own little area of research.  

What were your key takeaways from the secondment? 

Lars: ‘Getting to know people outside of my research field and project helped immensely. Major portions of the secondment were built around my work with the Energy Grid, and that was extremely useful as well.’  

Can you tell us a little about how Maths scholars are connecting with climate change in the School of Maths? 

Lars: ‘The previous Director of Sustainability at the School of Mathematics, David Jordan, came up with the idea of the ‘Innovating the Climate Transition’ lecture series. The main aim was to understand how we make maths and its operations more sustainable. As a part of this, we also looked at what related Schools are doing in terms of research into sustainability. These talks were a part of that. I think it is important that the lecture series was directed towards students. In maths, the structure is often very traditional and classical, which means that students encounter the field’s application in practice very late in their studies. It is important to me that students can see very early on what the uses of mathematics are in practical settings. I find that students are very aware of the climate crisis and of their need to combat it, but less so when to comes to applying their maths knowledge and training to it.’ 


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The School of Mathematics is committed to making positive change in areas surrounding climate and sustainability. The School is aiming to do this via its world-leading research and our engagement with industry, as well as through our curriculum to inspire the next generation of mathematicians. The School is  also committed to conducting our own research and teaching as sustainably as possible: Sustainability & the School of Mathematics.