NSF Awards $700,000 for Cross-Institutional, Interdisciplinary Math/Biology Education

Thursday, November 4 2010

Written by Donna Emert

MOSCOW, Idaho and PULLMAN, Wash. – The National Science Foundation has awarded a $700,000 grant to 10 faculty researchers and educators at the University of Idaho and Washington State University. The funding will support interdisciplinary undergraduate training in mathematics and biology at both institutions.

As health and life sciences become increasingly quantitative, there is a growing national need for scientists with expertise at the interface of mathematics and biology. The purpose of the grant is to support the training of undergraduate students in this area, introducing them to the ways in which math and computer science can be used to solve emerging problems in biology.

“This project ties in two of the University of Idaho’s strategic areas of research: real-time evolution, and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – or STEM – education,” said project collaborator Paul Joyce, University of Idaho professor of mathematics and statistics and director of the bioinformatics and computational biology graduate program.

“The grant allows us to capitalize on our close proximity and shared research strengths, to provide synergy and efficiencies to the program, “Joyce added.

“For the last five years, we have had a similar program at Washington State University,” said Bob Dillon, a mathematician who is the lead investigator for Washington State University. “We are excited to extend our own program and expand it to University of Idaho for the benefit of all undergraduates on the Palouse.”

A key feature of the grant is that it will provide authentic, long-term research experiences to participating undergraduates. Mathematics and biology students will work together in teams on cutting-edge research projects that require a combination of biological and mathematical approaches. In this collaborative and interdisciplinary framework, students will be responsible for all phases of their research, from project design to publication in peer-reviewed journals.

University of Idaho and Washington State University faculty also are working collaboratively to design introductory and advanced courses that help undergraduates grasp the connections between biology and mathematics, and develop proficiency in both disciplines. The courses will be taught by faculty from both universities.

Mathematical biology is strength at both institutions, and faculty have historically cooperated on research and graduate training in this area. The NSF grant recognizes the value of this cooperative research and education, extending the opportunity to undergraduates.

The University of Idaho will serve as the lead institution in the collaboration, which will build upon a successful program at Washington State University led by Charlotte Omoto and Richard Gomulkiewicz. The NSF funding will continue the Washington State University program and expand it to University of Idaho.

The relationship between mathematics and biology also has long been a central driver behind the University of Idaho’s Initiative for Bioinformatics and Evolutionary Studies (IBEST) program, an interdisciplinary research group focused on patterns and processes of rapid evolution. However, IBEST has historically focused on graduate education and research. The grant funding allows those opportunities to be extended to undergraduates as well.

IBEST, and the infrastructure associated with it, were cited in the review of the grant and highlighted as one of the reasons the proposal was funded.

The lead investigators of the grant are Robert Dillon (Math, WSU) and Barrie Robison (Biology, U-Idaho). Co-investigators on the grant are Bree Rosenblum (Biology, U-Idaho), Eva Top (Biology, U-Idaho), Steve Krone (Math/BCB, U-Idaho), Paul Joyce (Math/Stats/BCB, U-Idaho), Bala Krishnamoorthy (Math, WSU), Elissa Schwartz (Math/Biology, WSU), Richard Gomulkiewicz (Biology, WSU), and Charlotte Omoto (Biology, WSU).

For more information on the program, contact Barrie Robison at brobison@uidaho.edu or Bob Dillon at dillon@math.wsu.edu.
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About the University of Idaho

Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s land-grant institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year. The University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to earn the prestigious Carnegie Foundation classification for high research activity. The student population of 12,302 includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars, who select from more than 130 degree options in the colleges of Agricultural and Life Sciences; Art and Architecture; Business and Economics; Education; Engineering; Law; Letters, Arts and Social Sciences; Natural Resources; and Science. The university also is charged with the statewide mission for medical education through the WWAMI program. The university combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities and focuses on helping students to succeed and become leaders. It is home to the Vandals, the 2009 Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl champions. For more information, visit www.uidaho.edu.

About Washington State University
Washington State University (WSU) is a comprehensive land-grant institution with campuses in Pullman, Spokane, and the Tri-Cities (Richland, Pasco, and Kennewick) and Vancouver. There are ten colleges and a graduate school. More than 18,000 undergraduate and graduate students are served by the Pullman campus. WSU offers some 300 fields of study including more than 150 majors plus many minors, options and certificate programs. Bachelor’s degrees are available in all major areas, with master’s and doctoral degrees available in most. The University is one of the largest residential universities in the West. The university’s web page, www.wsu.edu, offers information about WSU and the surrounding area.

About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho helps students to succeed and become leaders. Its land-grant mission furthers innovative scholarly and creative research to grow Idaho's economy and serve a statewide community. From its main campus in Moscow, Idaho, to 70 research and academic locations statewide, U-Idaho emphasizes real-world application as part of its student experience. U-Idaho combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. It is home to the Vandals. For information, visit www.uidaho.edu.