Applying mathematics to water problems: A student's perspective

Monday, September 17, 2018

Growing up, Laura Chandler always had an affinity for water. During elementary school, many of her science fair projects explored algae in local lakes – why it was formed, and what we can do to avoid it. Her love for water and sustainability continued throughout her academic career and it is what led her to Waterloo’s Collaborative Water Program.

“I wanted to gain a better understanding of the earth and how it works,” said Chandler. “Using my field of mathematics to describe the fluid mechanics of water and air, and how they interact, was a wonderful way to apply math in a meaningful way.”

From the way the clouds move to the swirls of cream in your coffee cup, to the waves in the ocean: it can all be described through mathematics. Joining the Collaborative Water Program was another way for Chandler to use math in a way that’s more than just pencil-on-paper. It gave her a chance to apply her knowledge outside of the classroom, in the real world.WATER 602 Collaborative Water Program students in the field

Collaborative Water Program students collecting samples in the field during WATER 602.

“The field course in the Collaborative Water Program, WATER 602, provided me with a lens to see how my research fits in to a larger picture,” said Chandler. “It made a huge impact in how I viewed my research and provided me with new and different ways of looking at the work I do.”

WATER 602 Collaborative Water Program students electrofishing

Collaborative Water Program Students in the field during WATER 602.

Having the opportunity to connect and work with other students from outside of her home department provided Chandler with new perspectives and even possible solutions to her research problems she was tackling in the lab. It also motivated her to expand her knowledge and research approach, looking at more than just the math in any given water problem.

“Not only did I gain an idea of how mathematicians can learn from other disciplines,” said Chandler, “but I learned how mathematicians can help other disciplines – what we can actually do to make a difference in important research that will affect the future of the world.”

Chandler believes that the program has helped her communicate what she does in a way that’s easy for everyone to understand, and expects this to be beneficial when she begins the interview process for employment.

Laura Chandler

“I'm not in the stage where I'm looking for jobs yet,” said Chandler. “However, the Collaborative Water Program has made me feel less restricted to just my research area with regards to the job hunt. I feel like I have a lot of options for where I can go from here!”

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