Todd and Erdélyi on Practical Mathematics

In 1946, John Todd and Arthur Erdélyi wrote an article in Nature entitled Advanced Instruction in Practical Mathematics. Here is a short extract from the article.

All who watched the development of industrial research in recent decades and those who, during the War, had an opportunity of observing work in Government research departments, must realize that the usual academic syllabus in mathematics does not provide an adequate preparation for a future research worker in Government service or industry. Students, for example, of engineering (with which we include, for the sake of brevity in this article, physics, chemistry, etc.), biology or economics, do not get, as a rule, a mathematical training sufficiently advanced to enable them to follow up, and participate in, recent research in their subjects; and the training of students of mathematics is not very suitable for the type of work we have in mind. The truth is that in recent decades there has grown up a new type of research worker ... -the mathematical technologist - and so far British universities have not provided very much for him. An urgent need thus arises for an institution [an Institute for Practical Mathematics] where students are instructed in advanced mathematical techniques not usually included in university curricula, yet needed in 'mathematical technology' (and mathematical biology or economics for that matter) and where they are introduced to research ... . Since it is impracticable to add to the present syllabus without dangerously lowering the standard of instruction, and since there is scarcely anything in that syllabus that could profitably be discarded in order to make place for more practical mathematics, it is inevitable that the main activity of the suggested institute should consist of post-graduate courses. This theoretical conclusion is borne out by practice in the United States, where such post-graduate courses have been given, for example, at Brown and New York University, in such as the Courant Institute, for several years and have proved a great success.


JOC/EFR August 2007

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