When David Gómez Castro (Lugo, 1991) began the mathematics career at the Complutense University of Madrid, the cut grade was a five. In 2018, it was 11 out of 14. "The score has skyrocketed in the last 10 years because society has become aware that mathematics is important and has outputs in many fields, from banking to programming," explains Gómez. This young man studies the equations that engineers use to simulate lithium batteries and is one of six Spanish mathematicians under 30 years old who this Thursday have collected the Vicent Caselles Mathematical Research Award, awarded by the BBVA Foundation and the Royal Mathematical Society Spanish (RSME).
Gómez is part of the Interdisciplinary Mathematics Institute of the UCM and is a member of the Department of Applied Mathematics of the Pontifical University of Comillas. He started showing interest in mathematics when he was just a child. Years later, he defines himself as a "pencil-and-paper" mathematician and is used to carrying a notebook in which he points his calculations when a possible solution to a problem comes to mind. "Mathematics is a way of describing the intuitions we have about patterns that repeat themselves and of describing how we understand and synthesize the world," he explains.
The equations studied are those of the Newman model, which are the ones used by engineers to simulate lithium batteries. Although they were raised in the seventies, at that time, it was not known if they had a solution or not and if that solution was unique. "We have shown that yes, and this, in the long run, will allow more rigorous studies on the operation of lithium batteries," says the mathematician.
The first phones, he says, "had batteries that did not last at all." When the lithium batteries arrived, the main drawback was that "they were not very efficient". But with investigations such as those carried out by Gómez, progress is being made on two fronts: "The experimental, which consists in making batteries and testing them, and that of basic science, in which models are made and studied". "The better we understand the equations, the more accurate we will be when it comes to making good batteries," says the mathematician.
Both mobiles or computers such as electric cars, buses or airplanes use these batteries. Therefore, the mathematician recognizes that there is a growing interest in understanding better why they lose capacity and how to remedy it: "When several years pass, one has to change the battery because it no longer charges what it used to carry or lasts what used to last. It's about understanding how they work and how they age to make them as efficient and durable as possible. "
Another current challenge is to prevent batteries from generating anomalous or unwanted behavior. "You have to understand what behaviors generate failures and be able to tackle them from a technical point of view. Mathematics can help but they do not work alone. The key is also for example in physics. "
The young mathematician says that the equations used to simulate lithium batteries have "a promising future." What will be achieved later in applications that reach the public? Still to be seen. "The process that goes from basic science to technological development is quite slow. As a mathematician it is gratifying to see that things are coming out, but until you see the result in people's mobile it takes time, "he explains.
The problems that Gómez studies are born of physics, engineering, sociology or economics. Specifically, it works on partial differential equations, which are one of the arteries that connect mathematics and technology: "They allow us to study how an airplane flies, climate behavior, how markets evolve, how a beam is bent, or how they warm the wheels of a Formula One. "
"Differential equations are the rules of the game of physics. When you understand them you can simulate what would happen in one case or another, and that saves you many experiments. Instead of trying to reach the Moon by trying all the possible options, it is better to understand which equations are involved, solve them and thus make simulations that will indicate the best option ", concludes the mathematician.
The Vicent Caselles Awards were created by the BBVA Foundation and the Royal Spanish Mathematical Society (RSME) in 2015 to promote the research of young Spanish mathematicians or trained in Spain. In addition to David Gómez Castro, in this edition the winners were David Beltrán Portalés, David González Álvaro, Vanesa Guerrero Lozano, Álvaro del Pino Gómez and Carolina Vallejo Rodríguez.
Their contributions belong to areas other than mathematics, both basic and applied. For example, they have applications in the development of robotic arms or quantum computers. "We are experiencing a stage of rapid and rapid technological, economic and social change in which mathematics is playing a leading role, with an accelerated growth in the number of mathematicians in the business world," said the president of the BBVA Foundation, Francisco González during the award ceremony.
For the president of the RSME, Francisco Marcellán, it is essential that young researchers have ambition for "what other countries in our environment have". For example, Fields Medals and Abel Awards, the highest international mathematics awards.