In this blog post, we spoke to Lucas Lacasa, Reader in Applied Mathematics. Lucas, who joined Queen Mary University of London in September 2013, discussed his interest in complex systems, his passion for temporal networks, as well as his overall research work and the things he appreciates the most about working at the School of Maths.
Could you tell us about your research?
My area of research is complex systems, which is an interdisciplinary topic at the crossroads of dynamical systems, statistical physics and data analysis, all applied to the study of real-world systems. I like building bridges between disciplines: many disciplines are tackling very similar questions from different angles without realising it. My new obsession these days is to explore temporal networks (time-varying interaction patterns, such as the social contact network of who is interacting with whom) from the lens of dynamical systems theory: can we treat this evolving contact network as if it was the trajectory of a high dimensional dynamical system? Actually, can a temporal network be chaotic? Can it display memory? Can we infer the "equations of motion" of a temporal network? On the side, I’m also doing some COVID-19 research. Along with some colleagues, I have proposed a load balancing method to re-route ICU patients and ventilators across hospitals and NHS trusts, to alleviate the stress of the healthcare system by optimally allocating demand.
What do you enjoy most about working at the School of Maths?
The people. You know, some of the books I used to study during my PhD were (and are) from Queen Mary's academics, such as "Deterministic Chaos" from Wolfram Just, "Thermodynamics of Chaotic Systems" from Christian Beck, or a monograph on Complex Networks by Vito Latora. Indeed, I had a faculty position in Spain and some of the reasons to let that go and come to London were actually to meet and work with some of our colleagues.
Have you always known you wanted to teach?
I had a keen interest in Physics from a relatively young age, but it wasn’t really until I was finishing the undergraduate studies that I realised I could do science for a living, not just learn about it for the fun. The rest sort of unfolded quite naturally.
What’s your advice to students wanting to pursue a degree in Mathematics?
I learned this from the great Franco Vivaldi: "Enjoy to get stuck on a mathematical problem… as this is the default mode for a mathematician". Students tend to dislike getting stuck on a problem and quickly ask for help, they are stuck-averse. Real learning and truly enjoying maths happens once you accept that it’s ok to get stuck on a math problem for some time and you don’t feel anxious about it.
Find out more about Lucas Lacasa's research at the School of Maths.