John F. Hamilton
I have always found mathematics interesting and enjoyable. It is also my great fortune to have a job that touches some facet of mathematics virtually every day. I work at the Kodak Research Labs as an industrial mathematician, which means that I am a problem solver. Currently, I am developing new algorithms for Kodak's digital camera program, a task I find both challenging and rewarding. It is satisfying to know that I had a direct hand in developing or improving many Kodak digital cameras on the market today.
Before my current assignment I worked in diverse problem areas such as optics, medical imaging, graphic arts (commercial printing), and laser printers. In each case, I used mathematical models and computational methods to answer a question or solve an engineering problem. I found my mathematics qualifications to be a stepping stone into a whole spectrum of interesting engineering applications.
In industry, the purpose of building mathematical models is to save time and money. In one of my projects, an optical filter had to be designed for a camera. One way to proceed was by trial and error. We could make a filter, test it, and decide how to modify it for the next trial. Each complete trial cycle would take about two weeks, and it could take dozens of trials to get an acceptable filter. Once the mathematical model was developed, the optical performance of any filter design could be computed in just 15 minutes. Now any number of design ideas could be quickly evaluated with only the most promising actually being made and tested. As a result, we got a better filter and we got it faster.
When I entered graduate school, I thought I would eventually become a faculty member at a university. I was very interested in mathematics and especially liked teaching it. What I found out, as I completed my PhD thesis, was that I much preferred solving "real world" problems rather than proving theorems. In addition, my participation in a summer research project taught me the power of computer simulation. It didn't take me very long to realize that industry held a more promising future for me.
One of the important things one needs to do, especially in industry, is to communicate the results of one's work. Beautiful work that ends up in a file cabinet goes nowhere and just becomes wasted effort. For that reason, the greatest payoff from good mathematical work involves effective communication. But that's just another name for teaching! So, even though I'm a "non-academic" mathematician, a good portion of my time goes into teaching co-workers the details of my work.