Finding meaning amongst energetic algorithms

14 November 2016

A well executed mathematical model does not necessarily solve the hands-on issue it has been designed to solve. There is however no reason to lose heart as the right solution is most often found only by going through a host of wrong ones. Akseli Haarala, a student of mathematics at the University of Helsinki, had to face this situation head on in his summer job at UPM Energy. Akseli was given a mission to create a single tool for UPM Energy’s price predictor system. The tool brings one of the computational data flows into the price predictor system’s analysis.

”Searching for the right method was a challenging task at the beginning of summer. There were certain requirements involved that had no easy solutions. A couple of my first approaches did not meet some of the main targets so I had to toss them aside very quickly and turn to finding better ones. When small adjustments aren’t enough you basically have to start from scratch. I used the fail fast method and didn’t fine-tune my ideas very far before knowing they would actually work,” Haarala says.

The method proved successful and Akseli soon solved the problem given to him.

”It was one of the best moments of the summer, when we had the first real results back and could then study and review them. The model I designed is now in full use and brings in concrete results. I was happy with the outcome myself and so was everyone else. It’s always good to get results and good feedback.”

Akseli has studied computer science and physics besides mathematics. Physics has helped him to understand the facts of the energy business and computer science has been helpful in making his idea a reality.

”Towards the end of the project I focused more and more on the practical implementation of the model I designed. My work at UPM Energy continues this fall alongside my studies. I will continue the programming and program design of a side project I began at the end of the summer. Programming is a great skill for a mathematician as it offers a way to bring our theoretical knowledge into practice,” Haarala says.

The two roads of mathematics

Akseli’s work at UPM has varied between very independent and very social. His closest circle has included three colleagues and from time to time he has presented his ideas and progress to a larger group. The conversations have  proven important in finding a way out from dead ends.

”We have brainstormed together, discussed our work and given and gotten feedback. It’s very important to be able to share knowledge about ones projects and progress. It has however been fairly independent work. I have worked on my ideas, presented them to the others and gotten feedback, just like in exercises at university,” Haarala notes.

The summer has developed Akseli’s problem solving skills and knowledge of the energy industry. His plans for the future are still open though as an academic career interests him as well.

”I have focused on theoretical mathematics in my studies. Mathematics is a very wide field of study and at some point one has to find the right field of specialization. This far I have kept all doors open. Post-graduate studies and studying abroad interest me too. For now I can adjust my studies and my work around each other as I have a flexible contract of employment with UPM.”

The experience of applied mathematics has been meaningful also on a wider scale.

”Mathematics and the constant development of technology can get us to a point where we can achieve more with less. This is crucial for all development on earth. It is also easy to find meaning in working with energy as it is a major part of our society and affects almost everything we do,” Haarala says.

Saara Töyssy

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