From cells to crystals to winter coats

From cells to crystals to winter coats, York University Professor Huaxiong Huang has his hands full these days. A professor in the Department of Mathematics & Statistics and York’s site-leader for the Shared Hierarchical Academic Research Computing Network (SHARCNET), Huang is collaborating with researchers across a wide range of disciplines and industries to produce innovative mathematical models. As a result, the York researcher is demonstrating how mathematical modelling can be brought to bear on any number of real-world problems.

huangTake something as mundane as winter coats. Huang’s collaboration with researchers at City University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong Polytechnic University is yielding mathematical models that will help the textile industry test new fabrics that are less resistant to moisture removal.

Right: Huaxiong Huang

His unique research can also be applied to human cells, specifically, the cellular mechanisms that allow the mammalian brain to function. Until now, knowledge of how the brain functions through combinations of these mechanisms has remained largely elusive. But working with a number of researchers and using SHARCNET, Huang is constructing mathematical models to help researchers better understand the workings of the brain.

SHARCNET is a High Performance Computing (HPC) institute that links 11 leading academic institutions in south-central Ontario. It enables researchers to employ extremely powerful computers to accelerate the pace of their research in a cost-effective, virtual environment, and to address complex scientific problems that could not otherwise be studied.

“SHARCNET will be essential to carrying out our complex research,” notes Huang. “You need a High Performance Computing network to process the large amounts of information that we deal with.”

But these are not the only projects of Huang’s that will require SHARCNET’s resources. He is also collaborating with Firebird Semiconductor Ltd. – a global leader in the production of semiconductor wafers for radiation detectors – to model crystal growth. This project, which is supported by researchers at York, University of British Columbia and Pennsylvania State University, will enable industry to detect how defects form in crystals during the growth process.

“And this will enable industry to grow better, cost-effective crystals,” says Huang, whose work demonstrates not only the ability of SHARCNET to facilitate interdisciplinary projects, but also the interdisciplinary, real-world approach of York research.

His collaborators at York include Professor Jianhong Wu from the Department of Math & Statistics, Professor Dong Liang from the Department of Applied Math Section in the Faculty of Science & Engineering, and Professor Moshe Milevsky, finance specialist in the Schulich School of Business, whom Huang is working with on projects involving the modelling of financial ruin.

Huang received his PhD from UBC in applied mathematics in 1992 and was a postdoctoral fellow at John Hopkins University and Simon Fraser University. He was also a recipient of a Pacific Institute for Mathematical Sciences Industrial Outreach Award in 2000, and receives funding from the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council, Firebird, MITACS (Mathematics of Information Technology and Complex Systems), and the Fields Institute for his work in mathematical sciences.

This article was submitted to YFile by Jason Guriel, a York alumnus who writes on research and innovation.