Mathematical approaches and techniques have made substantial contributions to all disciplines of biology. Modern technology has increased the quantity and quality of information about biological systems at all scales of organization, from high-throughput genetic sequencing to global-scale remote sensing. This has opened up new opportunities and challenges for the application of mathematics to biology and created a strong demand for students that are trained in biomathematics. Yet undergraduate mathematics and biology majors still proceed largely along parallel isolated tracks, with many biology students acquiring very few mathematical skills and concepts, while many mathematics students remain relatively uninformed about biology. By bringing mathematics and biology students together under joint mentorship by biologists and mathematicians the Illinois Biomathematics Program will contribute a generation of scientists to meet the new challenges at the interface between these two disciplines.
The IBP has four major components:
- IB/Math 299: A project-based course offered in the fall semester in where students work on group projects and acquire a common set of skills. The objective of this class is to expose students to a diverse range of topics that are outside the classic training sequence in either discipline but reflect modern research approaches. Projects also serve to introduce students to the long-term research experiences available to them in the program
- Original research projects in which mixed teams of mathematics and biology students will work under the joint mentorship of biology and mathematics faculty. Students would choose projects at the end of the fall course, and would work on the projects over the spring and summer. Example projects would include: the study of Daphnia-disease-predator interactions in lakes of the Midwest, global change impacts on North American vegetation, and mammalian limb evolution and development.
- A research seminar where students and faculty will periodically report on their ongoing research projects. Students will also discuss journal articles relevant to their research and peer-review each other’s presentations and written reports. The goals of this component are to facilitate faculty and peer mentoring and to develop oral and written communication skills in an interdisciplinary context.
- Program assessment activities designed to determine the effectiveness of the different program components and mentoring activities, the impact of the overall program on student education and the extent to which the program can be institutionalized at the University of Illinois and other universities. Additionally, assessment will help determine what experiences should be retained as part of the program and what may be applicable to general undergraduate education.
Program Benefits and Requirements
The IBP is a one year research experience in mathematical biology and is open to students at all grade levels but participation is currently restricted to students who are majors in either Mathematics or Integrative Biology. By contrast, MATH/IB 299 (Biomath) is open to all students, not just those in the IBP.
Students in the IBP will receive the following financial support:
- Summer stipend: $4,000 (ten weeks)
- Research stipend: $500
- Travel stipend: $800
All students in the IBP are required to take the following courses:
- Math/IB 299: BioMath (FALL)
- Math 390 or IB 490: Independent Study (SPRING)
- Math 490/IB 496: Research Seminar in Mathematical Biology (SPRING)
In addition, students are expected to present their research project in the spring to the Illinois high school students as part of a special Biomath session at the Illinois Science Olympiad or the Undergraduate Research Symposium at UIUC. They are strongly encouraged to present their work at a regional or national scientific meeting in their field. Students are also required to produce a final report on their project at the end of the summer, which is allowed (and in fact encouraged) to be the same as the student's undergraduate thesis for graduation with distinction. Students are also encouraged to continue to work with their faculty mentors (e.g. as independent studies) beyond their one-year tenure in the program.