I spearheaded the mathematical analysis of the
equations, and Tomas programmed the equations on the
computer. Later, Marjorie collected data for the model,
and Tomas and I compared the model's predictions. Using
our model we could provide guidelines for controlling
the virus. In the end, our research process was truly
collaborative--none of us would have succeeded
alone.
**Why Use Math?** Why use mathematics at all?
The aforementioned problems--control of epidemics, cell
signalling, invading species, cancer treatment--are
tremendously complex and influenced by many possible
factors. Behaviours may be unpredictable, important
factors may be left out or even underestimated, and
models are not guaranteed to work the first time.
Without careful tracking and analysis of the complex
dynamics, we cannot hope to find answers. Research in
mathematical biology involves a constant iteration of
model development, analysis, prediction, and comparison
with data. A common reward for mathematicians is the
discovery of new, interesting mathematical problems that
are fun to solve.
**Sharing the Fun** Part of the fun also comes
from sharing discoveries and ideas with students. One
successful program developed at the University of
Alberta is the Mathematical Biology Summer Workshop.
This 10-day event held in May includes lectures, problem
solving, computer labs, and collaborative group
projects. The subjects covered in the group projects are
often open-ended and leave plenty of room for individual
creativity and discovery. The summer school finishes
with presentations by each group and then a barbecue.
The Pacific Institute for the Mathematical Sciences (PIMS)
funds the summer workshop, and it is a great way to
start the summer break.
**Math in the Mountains** Another place where
mathematical biology is taken to new heights is at the
Banff International Research Station
(BIRS), nestled in the town of Banff and surrounded by
the Rocky Mountains. The purpose of BIRS is to foster
new and original mathematical research in key areas.
Mathematical biology has been the feature of workshops,
weekend retreats, and focused research group projects at
BIRS. The quiet mountain atmosphere and outstanding
facilities make it a great place to get work done and to
collaborate.
**A Worldwide Field** It is evident to anyone
attending meetings such as those at BIRS that the
problems that mathematical biologists work on span time
zones and international borders. For example, several
people at the centre are involved in a working group
that uses dynamical systems to model the ecological and
economic impacts of invasive species (such as zebra
mussels) in the Great Lakes of North America. This group
includes biologists from the universities of Notre Dame
and Windsor, economists from Florida and Wyoming, and
mathematical biologists from Alberta. Although the
Internet facilitates easy communication among group
members, nothing works as well as face-to-face
collaboration on a project. So the centre at Alberta
hosts about 10 international visitors each year and
about the same number from other Canadian research
institutions.
The field of mathematical biology is growing
worldwide, and there are centres of excellence in many
countries. International groups, such as the Society for
Mathematical Biology (SMB), play an important role in
building the mathematical biology community by holding
annual meetings and mentoring young researchers.
**Funding Is Key** The health of mathematical
biology at the centre and elsewhere depends on funding.
Several programs in Canada support mathematical biology.
The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council
(NSERC) gives operating grants to faculty members, and
many faculty members apply through NSERC's
interdisciplinary program. NSERC and PIMS also fund
undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral researchers
through individual fellowships. PIMS also generously
supports a mathematical biology seminar series and
activities of a collaborative research group within
mathematical biology. The Mathematics of Information Technology and
Complex Systems National Centre of Excellence
provides matching funds for groups including researchers
from academia, industry, and government. Other sources
of funding include the Canadian Foundation for
Innovation, the Canada Research Chairs program, the Alberta Government, and possible
subcontracts from the U.S. National Science
Foundation.
**Careers in Mathematical Biology** Students
come to mathematical biology with a wide variety of
backgrounds, including math, biology, and other
quantitative sciences. Through mathematical biology,
math students gain an opportunity to tackle real-world
problems and biology students gain a new set of tools
and a framework for thought that gives an edge in the
research process.
Over the last decade, the number of academic jobs
involving mathematical biology has increased,
particularly in math departments, as recognition of the
field grows. Those with training in mathematical biology
have a set of skills (quantitative methods, computing,
teamwork, collaboration) that are also valuable to
employers in government and private industry.
**Getting Involved** If you are interested in
further information about the Centre for Mathematical
Biology and opportunities there, see our Web site. We would love to hear
from you.
SMB
provides an excellent Web page with resources for those
who would like to get involved. Membership is only $50
per year ($25 for students) and includes a subscription
to the *Bulletin of Mathematical Biology*, a top
journal.
There are many opportunities for graduate and
postdoctoral work in mathematical biology, which are
occasionally listed with faculty jobs on SMB's job
page. Alternatively, you can subscribe for free to
an e-mail newsletter that contains job information and
details on upcoming meetings, news, and educational
opportunities (see SMB's Publications section). Finally,
opportunities for education in mathematical biology,
including both graduate and undergraduate programs, are
available online.
Because the discipline of mathematical biology is
still young and constantly developing, there are great
opportunities for young scientists to contribute to the
field if they are willing to learn, communicate, and
think outside the box. |