October 16, 2015, BY Heather Johns

What class? Mathematical Biology: Applications of Calculus to Biology and Medicine

Who teaches it? Professor Nathan Ryan, mathematics

"Have you ever wondered why medical schools require calculus? Or why biology has recently been described as 'the most mathematical science?' It's because researchers in medicine and biology use mathematical models to predict change and design strategies for controlling epidemics, administering drugs, managing ecosystems and other applications. 

"Mathematical Biology: Applications of Calculus to Biology and Medicine — a newly developed course in applied mathematics — shows students how researchers do this. Using basic calculus, students study a number of real-world scenarios based on things that have happened in Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa, as well as surrounding areas. The course exists at only one other institution, as far as I know.

"We study Lake Victoria because the lake is an ecosystem with a lot of things that are not yet completely understood mathematically and biologically — there are invasive species, complicated predator-prey systems and pollution typical of evolving economies. Also, the people in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, the basin countries for the lake, face a variety of tropical diseases that have important societal and economic impacts that are also challenging to understand mathematically. These diseases are addressed via drugs that are administered in variety of ways, another thing mathematics can help make sense of.

"The course doesn't have any exams — unlike probably every other math course at the University. Instead, the students write three papers, including a final is a research paper about a model they develop to answer a question they pose. They also give a presentation to their peers on the model they develop."

See what else Bucknell offers in the Department of Mathematics.

Are we missing out on a cool class? Send suggestions to heather.johns@bucknell.edu.

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