Biological Sciences

Biology: One Equation at a Time [Full]

John Berges, Associate Professor

Course: BIO SCI 194, SEM 001
Class Number: 26398
Credits: 3 NS
Time: TR 3:00 - 4:00 PM
Place: TBA

Course Description:

Biology has been described as “the ideal major for the scientifically-inclined but mathematically-challenged,” but paradoxically, many of the most exciting recent discoveries in biology have relied on application of mathematical techniques. This seminar is intended to develop mathematical literacy among biology students, but also to introduce students of more mathematically-oriented sciences to the important applications of mathematics in biological sciences, ranging from medicine to marine biology. Goals of the seminar include: developing an appreciation of the critical importance of mathematics in all areas of biology, improving understanding of the application of specific mathematical approaches in biology, increasing confidence in quantitative problem-solving skills.

Work Involved:

The seminar explores critical biological questions (chosen by the class) using relatively simple equations. Only basic mathematical skills and biological background are assumed. Our sessions involve in-class experiments, interactive problem-solving (often use computers), group work, and discussion. The course operates in a ‘hybrid’ format with weekly assignments (generally involving on-line activities) and online discussions. Short field-trips to biology research labs will also be organized. Grading is based on weekly assignments (50%), participation in in-class and on-line discussions (10%), and a final term assignment (40%); there are no formal examinations.

Sample Reading:

Jungck, J.R. 1997. Ten equations that changed biology: mathematics in problem-solving biology curricula. Bioscene 23: 11-36.

Most of the equations are somewhat more advanced than what we will cover in the course, but it captures the flavor.

About the Instructor:

John Berges holds degrees in Marine Biology and Oceanography and has studied marine and freshwater ecosystems ranging from the Canadian High Arctic to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. In Canada, N. Ireland and the U.S., he has tried to convince biology students that mathematics can be fun; his eight-year old son and his cat remain skeptical. John has mixed mathematical abilities: he does his own taxes and has memorized many biologically-important mathematical constants, but struggles to program his MP3 player and has trouble remembering his cell phone number.