Predicting the spread of a cancer, the progression of an oil spill, the impact of climate change, these are all topics some of the world's top mathematicians are discussing right now at a conference in Vancouver. It was organized in part by the Philadelphia-based Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics.

SIAM Executive director Jim Crowley says math is an important tool in understanding many current problems.  "One example would be looking at West Nile Virus and trying to understand how that will propagate through the population," explained Crowley. "Similar mathematics might be used to look at how climate change might affect tree population and under stress how trees might migrate to new areas."

He adds that the Internet and apps have been a boon to mathematicians. "Google itself was founded on a mathematical idea, in order to do the page-rank algorithm that allows people to do the searching that they do, they relied on some rather sophisticated mathematics," he said.

Crowley says Americans have long been a strong force in applied mathematics, but some developing countries, and China are emerging as strong contenders in the field.

The conference in Vancouver ends tomorrow evening, Friday, July 22nd.