10/12/2015 Peter Durantine

Looking at the Future of Fossil and Renewable Fuels Through Math

When Sauleh Siddiqui graduated from Franklin & Marshall College in 2007, his dual majors were mathematics and corruption studies — a special program he devised — that he credits with preparing him for a career that calls on him to use math to solve practical problems.

Now assistant professor of civil engineering at Johns Hopkins University's Whiting School of Engineering, Siddiqui returns to the campus that launched him; he will speak at the Math Colloquium Series on transportation fuels.

His Oct. 22 talk, The Future of Transportation Fuel in the United States in Concert with Energy and Climate Policy, examines how fossil fuels such as oil — now increasingly delivered by train — as well as renewable energies are transported to market and how safety and climate-change concerns might shift demand away from fossil fuels.

"We'll investigate the interdependence between market developments, different regulatory measures to limit greenhouse gas emissions, and improved safety," Siddiqui said.

Public opposition to crude oil transportation by rail has been increasing because of a recent string of accidents, Siddiqui said. "We will illustrate how restrictions on crude oil transportation by rail may shift the pattern of production, refining and demand across the United States," he said.

Siddiqui plans to "model the interaction between crude oil and biofuels given the regulatory framework." With the right mix of subsidies and incentives, renewable fuels have the potential to provide a significant share of transportation fuels in the U.S., he said.

Jointly sponsored by F&M and Millersville University, the Math Colloquium provides all students, not just mathematics majors, opportunities to see how math can be applied in real-world situations.

"My students always wonder what they can do with mathematics," said Associate Professor of Mathematics Christina Weaver, co-organizer of the colloquium series. "They ask, 'How do I write my own real-world equations – not take them from a textbook?'  And then, ‘how do I solve those equations on the computer?’"

Siddiqui does both to discover solutions policymakers can consider, Weaver said. "I'm excited he's coming as an alumnus who's using mathematical modeling in his research every day."

While at the University of Maryland, where he earned his doctorate in applied mathematics and statistics, Siddiqui studied with noted mathematician Jim Yorke, who in 1975 co-authored the groundbreaking "Period Three Implied Chaos." Yorke was the first to use the word chaos in a mathematical context, F&M Professor of Mathematics Annalisa Crannell said.

As an undergraduate at F&M, Siddiqui worked with Crannell on research for his senior honors thesis project, "Dynamics of Piecewise Continuous Functions," and on a project in set theory that involved reading mathematician and philosopher Kurt Gödel's proof of the Incompleteness Theorem.

"Reading Gödel’s article was a very difficult task," Crannell said. "I'm not a set theorist, so I have had only a superficial understanding of Gödel's results. Sauleh's presentation was the first one I've seen that made me feel that I really 'got' the idea behind this important theorem and its proof."

  • Sauleh Siddiqui '07, assistant professor of civil engineering at Johns Hopkins University's Whiting School of Engineering, will speak at the Oct. 22 Math Colloquium Series on transportation fuels. Image Credit: Johns Hopkins Univeristy

If you go: Siddiqui's talk is 4 p.m. Oct. 22 in the Bonchek Lecture Hall of the Ann & Richard Barshinger Life Sciences & Philosophy Building. He also will visit Weaver's 300-level mathematical modeling classes to do some interactive teaching and modeling. 

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