Anil Deane knew he had an affinity for numbers when, at an early age, he studied his older sister’s math textbook instead his own, realizing it had more advanced math.
Deane, a technical fellow at Northrop Grumman, reminisced about that watershed moment as he contemplated the significance of Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month. Years after reading his sister’s math book, his love for numbers — and science — remains strong.
A Cause for Celebration
Deane is one of countless mathematicians who have a reason to celebrate in April. Every year at this time, the U.S. celebrates an appreciation for numbers. It started as a week-long celebration in 1986 per a proclamation by President Ronald Reagan and extended to a month-long event in 1999, according to MathAware.org. Colleges, high schools, math clubs and other organizations use the month to host workshops, competitions, exhibits, festivals and more.
What was originally called Mathematics Awareness Month is now Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month. The associations that put on the annual celebration believe statisticians deserve specific recognition because they contribute “so much to furthering discoveries, solving problems, and finding beauty in our world.”
The Math Behind Security
Every day, Deane conducts research that supports company projects and consistently illustrates the importance of mathematics in science, technology and engineering. An expert in Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), and High Performance Computing (HPC), he develops models to verify or reject theories as he helps build systems and programs for Northrop Grumman clients.
“Mathematics is an amazing tool,” Deane said. “The understanding and the insight it provides in the modeling is the goal. I want not just to understand the research, but to also understand what is best for our customers and our corporation. That’s what I get out of numerical models. They help me design systems better.”
For example, Deane and his Northrop Grumman colleagues created a cybersecurity model that allows a government customer to identify and stop cybercriminals who could steal valuable information. Most of Deane’s projects revolve around data analytics and its grounding in mathematics and statistics.
In a nutshell, Deane’s job calls for him to “deal with these algorithmic parts but also understand how it maps onto real computing hardware and graphical processing units,” he said. “It’s how you have the math but also the algorithms and how it all meshes to computing hardware and then the data center.”
Many companies base some or a large part of their operations around AI-type programs, but that doesn’t mean human minds aren’t needed in this new frontier, according to Deane.
“The computer is doing the heavy lifting,” Deane said. “But you have to set it up initially … You ‘train’ a certain type of data and let the machine go, and it will find anomalous data.”
A Northrop Grumman employee for more than ten years, Deane previously worked for NASA, where he focused on large-scale parallel computing. He also had a two-year stint at the Department of Energy, where, as a program manager for applied mathematics, he contributed to a math program that “was responsible for many of the scientific and engineering advances that are used in this country and in the world,” he said. “I’m very proud of that program. It is really world-class.”
Go in for the Love
For more than 20 years, Deane has also served as a research professor at the University of Maryland, College Park. What advice does Deane give students who want to follow his career path, or at least one that demonstrates the importance of mathematics?
“Go in for the love of it. Our higher brains are built for complex thinking, and there is deep satisfaction in following this.” he said.
Of course, Deane recognizes that not everyone is mathematically inclined, but that shouldn’t dissuade them, he said. He believes educators need to do a better job of presenting math in friendly terms.
“Nobody should be afraid of it,” Deane said. “It’s fair enough to say they don’t like it, but they shouldn’t be afraid.”