March 14, 2018

UCalgary prof explodes stereotypes around math research

Peak Scholar Michael Lamoureux works to create cultural shift. And by the way, Happy Pi Day!
Michael Lamoureux is a mathematics professor at the University of Calgary. His work with a national organization encourages students to apply their math skills to careers working with industry.

Michael Lamoureux is a mathematics professor at the University of Calgary.

Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Most people wouldn’t think of dynamite as a tool of the trade for a mathematician, but for University of Calgary researcher Michael P. Lamoureux, it is.

Lamoureux’s research involves improving mathematical analysis with application to seismic imaging — a  kind of photography used to reveal underground formations and often employed in oil and gas exploration. The dynamite shakes the ground to create sound waves, and mathematical formulas are applied to the sound waves to create images.

“Dynamite is used in seismic imaging the same way a flash is used in photography, sending energy to the spot where you want to take a ‘picture.’ Our technicians don’t let the mathematicians handle the dynamite, or get too close to the blast — we may be good with numbers, but apparently not so good with things that go ‘boom!’”

Inspiring students

In addition to his research, Lamoureux teaches math to undergraduate and graduate students and serves as innovation co-ordinator at the Pacific Institute for the Mathematical Sciences (PIMS). In this role he facilitates new collaborations between mathematicians, their students, and companies seeking mathematical expertise to solve challenges in developing commercial products and processes.  

“How do you use a math degree? Traditionally students see two career paths with math: either becoming a teacher or working towards being a professor,” says Lamoureux. “We are trying to create a cultural shift and show students that math skills are an asset to industry.”

As part of the project, Lamoureux’s students work with companies to create mathematical algorithms that companies can use to extract useful information and support commercial innovation. For example, his students have worked with potash mining companies to create mathematical optimization models on how to operate the mines more efficiently, and with oil and gas companies to maximize resource exploration.

“I really want students to explore all the opportunities they have,” says Lamoureux. “There are lots of jobs for math graduates, and math skills are very valuable to companies, especially if students have some background in computing.”

Math is a language everyone uses

As a high school student in Edmonton, Lamoureux wasn’t sure what he should study at university. He excelled in mathematics, and considered physics and engineering. 

“I then came to the conclusion that if I study math, I get to work with all these different disciplines because math is a language everyone uses,” says Lamoureux.

Innovative work has impact

His innovative work with students hasn’t gone unnoticed. Earlier this academic year, Lamoureux was named a 2017 Peak Scholar by the University of Calgary. Peak Scholars are researchers whose academic work has had a positive social or economic impact outside of the academy.

Michael P. Lamoureux is a professor of mathematics, and previously was the head of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at the Faculty of Science, University of Calgary. He is also an adjunct professor in the Department of Geoscience.