The Finite Element Circus

The Fall 2024 Finite Element Circus will take place October 18-19, 2024 at University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) . The local conference website will be posted by July, 2024.

There is a Google group for receiving news about upcoming Circus meetings. To be added to or removed from the Circus group, please send an e-mail to Michael Neilan.

Circus Organization

Speakers at Circus meetings are volunteers from the audience (recorded at the start of the meeting). The length of talks is set depending on the number of volunteers, so speakers have to prepare a talk that can be trimmed to various lengths (10-15 minutes is typical). The order is assigned randomly at the start of the meeting, so speakers must be present for the entire meeting and cannot request a specific time to talk. Please don't put the organizers in an awkward position by requesting that an exception be made (which won't be granted anyway). Potential participants are strongly encouraged to attend at least one meeting before volunteering to speak.

About the Finite Element Circus

The Finite Element Circus is a regular conference devoted to the theory and applications of the finite element method, and related areas of numerical analysis and partial differential equations. The Finite Element Circus was conceived by Ivo Babuska, Bruce Kellogg, and Jim Bramble over beer and pizza at the Beltway Plaza shopping center in Hyattsville, Maryland in 1970, and the first circus was held at the University of Maryland, College Park late that year. In the early years meetings were held as often as four times a year, but soon a format was established of a one-and-one-half day meeting held every spring and fall at varying locations. Since 1977 the participants and talks have been recorded in "the big book," and the titles for circus talks since 1996 may be found online as well.

Many institutions have hosted the circus over the years: Cornell, Duke, Harvard, NYU, Penn State, Purdue, and Rutgers, the Universities of Chicago, Colorado at Denver, Delaware, Houston, Louisiana State, Maryland, Maryland at Baltimore County, Bridgewater State, Michigan, North Carolina State, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Brookhaven National Labs, and the Naval Academy. Ivo Babuska served as the ringmaster from the inception of the circus through 1995 when Douglas N. Arnold and Richard S. Falk took over. Beginning in 2003, the circus was overseen by Rick Falk and Lars Wahlbin. In spring, 2012, Susanne C. Brenner replaced Wahlbin as co-organizer of the Circus, and in spring, 2016, Peter Monk replaced Rick Falk as co-organizer of the Circus.  In spring, 2023, Michael Neilan replaced Sue Brenner as co-organizer, and in spring, 2024, Guosheng Fu replaced Peter Monk.

There are a variety of traditions associated with the Circus. A pleasant one is the Circus Poem, which is written for each meeting. The first poem on record dates from the Fall 1978 circus.

                     There once was a fellow named Dare.

                     Who approximated PDEs with great care.

                     But the solutions were rough

                     And the problems were tough,

                     So he only got O(h²).

Some other poems are on these pages as well.

2020, marked the 50th Anniversary of the Finite Element Circus.  In celebration we held the first ever on line FE Circus on November 6-7, 2020.  For more information about the celebration, including videos from several senior members including Ivo Babuska, see


The Finite Element Circus web pages were originally written by Doug Arnold and maintained for many years by Richard S. Falk and Peter Monk. They are now maintained by Michael Neilan.  The Google Sites implementation is due to Amanda Sewell.  

Last modified April 25, 2024. 

The Finite Element Circus website is maintained by Michael Neilan.