Mathematicians consider gas extraction, footballers and tulips

26 January 2018

The Dutch government has introduced measures to control gas extraction in the Groningen region. Will less drilling mean fewer earth tremors? Can mathematical data be used to assess professional footballers’ performance? These are among the questions to be examined by a group of around sixty mathematicians when they gather for the 135th Study Group on Mathematics and Industry (SWI) at TU Eindhoven. They will also turn their attention to four other important issues placed on the agenda by various private sector companies and organizations. The results of the meeting will support practical solutions, to be implemented as soon as possible. The aim of this annual event is to strengthen collaboration between the discipline of mathematics and Dutch industry. It is sponsored by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO).

The week of workshops, at which the private sector and academic field come together, starts on Monday morning with a presentation of the various case studies. Over the following days, the mathematicians will brainstorm in small groups, modelling, analysing and simulating the problems. On Friday, they once again convene to present their initial solutions – or perhaps even their final solutions.

Case studies

The case studies have been submitted by various organizations, including Statistics Netherlands/CBS and the horticultural company Hobaho (a subsidiary of Dümmen Orange) which specializes in developing new flower varieties. Also involved are SciSports, which supports professional football clubs at home and abroad by using data science to monitor players’ performance, the multinationals SKF and DNV GL, and the Eindhoven consultancy CQM, which specializes in quantitative methodologies.

The case study submitted by Statistics Netherlands/CBS focuses on whether government measures to restrict gas extraction in the Groningen region have reduced the number of earth tremors experienced there. Although this may seem reasonably straightforward to ascertain, there are many practical challenges. Even an ongoing change in exploration and production methods is likely to have only a subtle effect compared with the far greater stochastic variations that will occur. To calculate the effects of the measures using existing methods would require a dataset comprising at least one thousand random readings: the equivalent of over eighty years’ monitoring. Such a dataset is, of course, not available. Statistics Netherlands/CBS has therefore asked the mathematicians to devise a statistical method which can produce reliable results based on a more realistic volume of data.

The next case study could hardly be more different. SciSports is an organization which monitors the performance of professional footballers using data which is collected empirically, based on the number of goals scored, passes and successful tackles. However, this type of data lacks important contextual information. SciSports therefore wishes to improve the algorithm it uses to assess players by adding positional data. Doing so will provide context and reveal the value of various events that take place on the pitch during a match. The challenge for the mathematicians is to find sound mathematical methods which will determine the strategic and physical quality of a footballer based on this additional positional data.

The 135th Mathematics and Industry Study Group (SWI) takes place at TU Eindhoven from Monday 29 January until Friday 2 February 2018. Click here for further information, including a full list of participating companies and details of the case studies.

Contact information

Alessandro Di Bucchianico, chair of organizing committee, 040 247 2902
Stella Kapodistria, member of organizing committee (040 247 5825; queries in English).


Source: NWO


Science area

Exact and Natural Sciences


Mathematics Clusters


Curiosity driven research and talent (2015-2018)