Melding Math and Biology
Your body is full of math. From the constant flow of molecules in and out of your cells to the nerve signals zipping through your brain, your physiological processes can be described in terms of mathematical terms and models. It’s an approach to biology and physiology that moves from observational science into fundamental physical principles, according to some mathematicians, including the University of Utah’s James Keener. This week, Keener and his fellow mathematical biologists gather at the U for the 2017 annual meeting of the Society for Mathematical Biology. As part of the proceedings, the society will award Keener the inaugural John Jungck Prize for Excellence in Education. Keener recently spoke with @theU.
Faculty Spotlight: Vahe Bandarian
Chemistry Professor Vahe Bandarian is exploring the biosynthetic pathways that are involved in the production of modified nucleic acids, such as those found in RNA. In fact, RNA is among the most highly modified biological molecules, with more than 100 modifications observed to date. While most modifications entail simple transformations, some are so-called hyper-modified bases where multiple steps are involved. Recent studies point to links between RNA modifications and cellular processes, some of which underlie diseases.
Faculty Spotlight: Davar Khoshnevisan
Davar Khoshnevisan, a Professor of Mathematics, was recently appointed as the Department Chair for Mathematics at the U. He started a three-year term on July 1, 2017. “I am honored to serve as Department Chair,” says Khoshnevisan. “We have a world-class faculty, an amazing staff, not to mention fantastic graduate students, visitors, and post docs. It will be a pleasure to work more closely with them toward our many common goals.”
Physics & Astronomy
Faculty Spotlight: Shanti Deemyad
Shanti Deemyad, an Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy, recently helped solve a long-standing mystery about lithium, the first element in the periodic table that is metallic at ambient conditions. Lithium, which is a key element in electronics and battery technology, has played an important role in the development of modern condensed matter theories. The crystal structure of materials at zero pressure and temperature is one of their most basic properties. Until now, it was thought that a complex arrangement of lithium atoms, observed during cooling in the laboratory, was its lowest energy state. But the idea baffled theoretical physicists since lithium has only three electrons and therefore should have a simple atomic structure.