Braxton Osting, assistant professor of math, has been interested in mathematics and science since he was a child, and one thing that still amazes him is math’s “unreasonable effectiveness in the natural sciences.” By that, Osting is referring to a term coined by Eugene Wigner, a Hungarian-American mathematician, theoretical physicist, and engineer, in which Wigner discussed that mathematical concepts can turn up in entirely unexpected places and with unexpected connections that often prove useful in problem solving.
“I’m an applied mathematician, “said Osting, “and I enjoy developing and studying mathematical tools that may seem unrelated to a particular question, but in the end, prove quite useful in solving real-world problems in the sciences.”
Osting will present a “Science at Breakfast” lecture on Wednesday, March 14 in downtown Salt Lake. In his talk called “Honeycombs, Foam, and Image Segmentation,” he will discuss why bees construct honeycombs using hexagons and how bubbles are arranged within a foam. He’ll also note how these ideas can be applied to the problem of image segmentation, which is the process of partitioning a digital image into multiple segments, or sets of pixels, with specific properties. Call Paige Berg, 801-587-8098 for more information.
Image segmentation and graph partitioning problems have applications in surveillance, defense, medicine, and through its applicability to image analysis, is important to experiments in physics, astronomy, chemistry, biology, materials science and engineering.
“In medical imaging, we want to detect and localize a tumor using MRI slices or CT volumes as a vital step in providing a correct diagnosis, treatment planning, and evaluation,” explains Osting.
One of the challenges in data analysis, and image analysis, is developing methods that can handle “big data” as well as provide results that can be interpreted. “When we use methods that depend on ideas from geometry and physics,” said Osting, “we can readily interpret the data. These methods show great promise in solving different kinds of problems.”
Osting joined the U’s math department in 2014 after completing a National Science Foundation Mathematical Sciences Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at the University of California, Los Angeles.