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NSF-Simons NITMB marries mathematicians and biologists to catalyze innovation at the ‘Emerging Directions Workshop’

Emerging Directions Workshop Banner that reads "Emerging Directions Workshop February 19th - 23"

“Our aim is to impact not just our own work, but new promising paths at the interface of math and biology” 

                  - Stephanie Palmer, NITMB Associate Director of Training and Theme Leader

          The NSF-Simons National Institute for Theory and Mathematics in Biology inaugural Emerging Directions Workshop promises to ignite innovative problem solving in the fields of mathematics and biology. Researchers from diverse backgrounds will gather to discuss emerging challenges and problems to discover new ways mathematics and biology can intersect. Bridges will be formed between mathematicians and biologists, producing potentially revolutionary collaborations and transformative research.

          We spoke with NITMB Associate Directors and Theme Leaders Antonio (Tuca) Auffinger and Stephanie Palmer about the potential of this workshop to shape the future of mathematics and biology research.

Antonio Auffinger

Antonio (Tuca) Auffinger

Associate Director, Convening Activities

Theme Leader, Fidelity & Variation

Stephanie Palmer

Stephanie Palmer

Associate Director, Training

Theme Leader, Information Processing

What is the Emerging Directions Workshop?

 

“The Emerging Directions Workshop is a weeklong workshop that brings together biologists and mathematicians hoping to identify emerging themes at the intersection of math and biology.”

          - Antonio (Tuca) Auffinger

“As a community, both locally and internationally, we want to have long and iterated conversations over the week about what’s new in math and theory and how it might help answer or develop new questions in biology. We will also discuss new opportunities for theory and math that have emerged because of new biological discoveries and measurements.”

          - Stephanie Palmer

 

Who is the workshop designed for?

 

“It’s designed for faculty and trainees, both in mathematics and biology. It’s really a workshop that’s designed to promote a lot of discussions so that people can come with very diverse backgrounds and ask questions.”

          - Antonio (Tuca) Auffinger

 

How have similar workshops impacted your research?

 

“Workshops in mathematics shaped my own research in many ways. There are workshops I attended that opened new fields to me. They were opportunities to learn about open questions and to meet new people.”

          - Antonio (Tuca) Auffinger

 

What effective elements of those workshops will NITMB replicate in the Emerging Directions Workshop?

 

“One of the key features of these meetings is open time for discussion and getting all participants to present work and thoughts in a way that’s different from their usual seminar presentations. We ask folks to share their unpolished work and ideas, so that we can explore together during discussions after.”

          - Stephanie Palmer

 

How will the Emerging Directions Workshop engage with NITMB’s themes?

 

“Each day of the workshop will focus on different sets of themes, with speakers selected by our theme leaders. The aim is to gather thought leaders in each domain from across the country, alongside trainees who are engaged in the theme questions in their own research.”

          - Stephanie Palmer

 

What activities will participants engage in?

 

“In the mornings, there will be talks by invited speakers. Then there will be posters and lightning talks by trainees. In the afternoon there will be brainstorming sessions where people will discuss what they saw in the morning and split into groups and then come back to the whole group to report.”

​          - Antonio (Tuca) Auffinger

 

“On the final day, we will work as a group to compose our thoughts and conclusions and write up short-format recommendations for future work in the themes, for changing the themes, and overall, for remaining nimble as both math and biology methods and discoveries evolve.”

          - Stephanie Palmer

 

Why is the Emerging Directions Workshop significant for the fields of mathematics and biology?

 

“Bringing together both math and biology researchers to talk to each other creates a good flow of information in both directions and will allow us to identify, as a group, new opportunities that we might not find if we all keep working in our siloes.”

​          - Stephanie Palmer

 

How will this workshop set the direction for future work in this space?

 

“Our aim is to impact not just our own work, but new promising paths at the interface of math and biology, broadly. This could come through sharing the synthesis documents we create at the end of the week, through dissemination in papers and conference talks, and by driving in person and online tutorials for mathematicians and biologists in the key technical details needed to do research in these new exciting directions.”

​          - Stephanie Palmer

 

How will this event unite mathematics and biology experts with diverse social and academic backgrounds?

 

“The NITMB, it’s extremely diverse, from leadership to faculty. Team leaders select a diverse selection of speakers, so we expect diversity in all realms, from scientific backgrounds to career stages, people from math, people from biology. We hope that by putting all these smart people in a room together, smart things will come out.”

          - Antonio (Tuca) Auffinger

 

How will this workshop stimulate collaboration between mathematics and biology experts?

“By bringing together different training perspectives in math and biology, the workshop will seed a common framework for sharing ideas across fields and hopefully spark new collaborations amongst the participants and beyond.”

          - Stephanie Palmer

 

What excites you about the Emerging Directions Workshop?

 

“Personally, I know almost no biology. The thing that excites me most is to learn about the open questions. Learn about what are the things biologists want to solve, and hopefully I’ll identify something that my expertise can help.”

​          - Antonio (Tuca) Auffinger

 

“I’m most excited for the afternoon conversations. I’m excited to learn more about both biology and new mathematics over the coming week.”

          - Stephanie Palmer

 

Will there be more Emerging Directions Workshops in the future?

 

“Absolutely! We aim to run these every Winter to ensure that the NITMB shifts nimbly with the changing landscape of research and discovery at the interface of math and biology.”

          - Stephanie Palmer

 

“This is the first one, and it will help us shape the structure and how to be effective in the years to come.”

          - Antonio (Tuca) Auffinger

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