While her grade-school classmates were learning the alphabet and how to count to five, Andrea Bertozzi remembers studying negative numbers and modular arithmetic.
Math often gets a bad rap as an uncreative left-brain oriented activity, but Bertozzi said she was fascinated with it as a child because of its creative potential.
“Teachers have trouble teaching it that way,” said Bertozzi, a member of the UCLA Institute for Digital Research and Education’s Executive Committee. “They’re not looking at it the right way.”
In addition to her role as a professor of mathematics at UCLA, she has served as the university’s Betsy Wood Knapp Chair for Innovation and Creativity since 2012.
“Our department is not one that does routine applications,” she said. “We develop new math on the boundary with other fields.”
One of Bertozzi’s most publicized projects involved a partnership with the Los Angeles Police Department to develop software programs that attempt to locate where and when crime will most likely happen so that cops can preemptively patrol these areas.
The model uses ideas from earthquake science. It takes a triggering event, such as a property crime or a burglary, and treats it similarly to aftershocks that can follow earthquakes to figure out where and when the next crime will occur.
A more recent project involves the development of robots with the ability to pollinate plants. Since the late 1990s the population of bees has been in steady decline and many bee species are now considered endangered. Without bees, humanity runs the risk of losing a wide swath of the world’s flora.
That’s where Bertozzi’s mathematical abilities come in. The hardware for the “robo-bees” themselves are not her group’s domain. Rather, she is working on the theoretical side of the issue to create an algorithm that would send out the robotic pollinators to perform their function. Her team collaborates with a research group at Arizona State University headed by Spring Berman, assistant professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and graduate faculty in Computer Science and Exploration Systems Design at ASU.
Bertozzi isn’t lying when she says she has a variety of research in the works. Her interest in non-linear partial differential equations and applied mathematics have led to projects in everything from image processing to cooperative robotics to high dimensional data analysis.
“It turns out a lot of my recent projects have social components,” she said. “I have a lot of ideas and we work on those that I can pitch to the funding agencies.”
She said that she and her students have taken advantage of IDRE’s Hoffman 2 Cluster to do the computing required for some of many of the projects. In addition, she recently gave a seminar about geometric graph-based methods for high dimensional data sponsored by IDRE.
Although the topics she studies are complex, Bertozzi has a concise philosophy on math.
“You can think of math as a language that describes the real world,” she said. “It’s about always reinventing and adding different structures to things.”