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A Four College Biomathematics Consortium

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Leading Liberal Arts Colleges Receive Grant to Engage Undergrads in Biomathematics Research

Lee Spector"This grant will support the kind of cross-disciplinary work that Hampshire is known for. It provides new resources for work combining biological and mathematical/computational research, including faculty and student collaborators from the Five College consortium."
- Professor Lee Spector, Hampshire College

Four of the country's leading liberal arts colleges received a five-year, $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to form a consortium aimed at training 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 Hampshire, Smith, Amherst, and Mount Holyoke Colleges into the most challenging life research questions at a critical moment in history.

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. Turning that potential into reality will require the knowledge of a variety of experts.

Faculty investigators for the grant include Hampshire computer science professor Lee Spector and mathematics professor Sarah Hews. Professors at the other colleges include three principal investigators at Smith, Ileana Streinu, Robert Dorit and Christophe Golé; Amy Wagaman, Tanya Leise, and Sheila Jaswal at Amherst; and Craig T. Woodward and Martha Hoopes at Mount Holyoke.

Together, the professors say, life scientists and mathematicians might untangle the relationship between the amino acid sequence of a protein and an inherited disease, for example, or design a computer program to predict changes in marine life resulting from warming oceans. In addition to new researchers, new tools are needed to cope with the amount of available data.

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 take 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.

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