Grant Will Engage Students in Biomathematics

Wednesday, September 14, 2011 - 14:35

Four of the country’s leading liberal arts colleges have received a five-year, $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to form a consortium to train the next generation of scientists in the rapidly emerging field of biomathematics.

The funding will establish the Four College Biomathematics Consortium (4CBC) to support joint investigations by faculty and students at Mount Holyoke, Smith, Amherst, and Hampshire colleges into the most challenging life research questions.

In recent years, biology research has generated an enormous amount of scientific data--from genome sequences to environmental shifts around the globe--that holds the potential to answer fundamental questions about life on earth. But turning that potential into reality will require the knowledge of a variety of experts, including Mount Holyoke biological sciences faculty members Craig Woodard and Martha Hoopes.

“In the twenty-first century, there has been an explosion of data in the life sciences,” Woodard said. “Extracting meaning from these complex datasets demands mathematical thinking and mathematical tools. A new field is emerging at the interface of the life sciences and the quantitative sciences, but to make real progress in that field we need a new cohort of biomathematicians trained at that interface. The goal of this NSF-funded collaboration is to train the next generation of biomathematicians.”

Woodard and Hoopes secured the grant along with eight additional faculty members from the consortium colleges. The other investigators include Amy Wagaman, Tanya Leise, and Sheila Jaswal at Amherst; Lee Spector and Sarah Hews at Hampshire; and Ileana Streinu, Robert Dorit, and Christophe Golé at Smith.

“This grant will allow us to support research collaborations between our biology and math/computer science faculty,” Woodard said. “It will also provide training and research experiences for our students who are interested in using mathematical approaches to answering biological questions.“

Specifically, the funding will provide stipends for faculty and students to team up on biomathematics research investigations. Academics from both mathematics and the life sciences will advise student cohorts working on research projects that involve both fields. To stimulate interactions among disciplines, once a month this fall at each of the four institutions, faculty researchers will offer seminars for their counterparts about their work.

In the spring, students will be offered a new course, Frontiers in Mathematical Biology, in which the faculty teams will rotate to introduce and interest students in partnering on the investigations. The program is targeted to juniors, who will be able to work on the research for at least two years.