Title:  Research Experiences at the Biology-Mathematics Interface (REBMI)

 

PI:  John Milton

Co-PIs: Lissette de Pillis (HMC), T. Gregory Dewey (KGI), Art Lee (CMC), Mario Martelli (CMC) 

Funding Agency:  NSF

Division:  Division of Mathematical Sciences (DMS)

Committee: Interdisciplinary Training for Undergaduates in the Biological and Mathematical Sciences (UBM) 

Amount: $ 429,878

Dates: 10/2006 - 09/ 2011

Abstract:

The focus of this proposal is to prepare undergraduate students to work on interdisciplinary teams that tackle “translational”, real-life challenges at the crux of biology and mathematics.  The effectiveness of such teams depends not only on the individual expertise of the team members, but also on how well members develop skills related to critical thinking, problem-solving, project management, and effective communication (written and verbal).   In order to expose students to the questions and problems regularly confronted by practicing scientists, our institutional level program takes advantage of two industry sponsored capstone initiatives at The Claremont Colleges.  As such, student evaluation criteria will be based primarily on performance, and, in particular, on the performance of student teams to obtain implementable solutions to novel problems.   In this way we hope to be able to identify and train those students who have the ability and desire to become the future leaders of bio-technology in this country.

With NSF support Dr. Milton brings together an experienced team of educators spanning five institutions to combine their resources to re-design a biomathematics curriculum so that topics most relevant for research at the cutting edge between biology and mathematics, e.g. stochastic processes, delay and partial differential equations, numerical analysis, and data mining, can be quickly introduced.  Armed with skills necessary to use computers for data collection and running experiments, students can see for themselves the application of mathematics as a laboratory tool.  During the summer of their junior year, student teams composed of members with varying academic backgrounds engage in mentor-supervised research projects in biology.  Here they learn to use the computer as a meeting point between empirically and quantitatively oriented researchers.  The research questions and problems addressed by student teams in their senior year are typical of those confronted by scientists in biotechnology: the proposed solutions must work in practice and be delivered by a specified deadline.   Summative evaluations are based on special examinations that challenge student teams to obtain practical solutions to open-ended problems that differ from those encountered during their research experiences.  Formative evaluations are based on inputs provided by both the participants and their peers.  An annual conference is an integral part of this project and serves to provide a venue for student recruitment, the assessment of students, and the evaluation of the program by an external review committee.  This committee is composed of experts from biomathematics, biotechnology, government and industry.  All materials developed by this program will be available on a website to benefit other institutions.