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Inaugural ‘Emerging Directions Workshop’ a ‘Tremendous Success’

Updated: Mar 22


Dmitri Petrov, Professor of Biology, Stanford University, speaks at the NITMB Emerging Directions Workshop

Dmitri Petrov, Professor of Biology, Stanford University, speaks at the NITMB Emerging Directions Workshop


“The Emerging Directions Workshop was a tremendous success. Over 100 participants from more than 15 diverse disciplines were absorbed in research discussions that could generate future research collaborations at the interface of mathematics and biology.”

                  - Richard Carthew, Director, NITMB


The NSF-Simons National Institute for Theory and Mathematics in Biology (NITMB) recently held its inaugural Emerging Directions Workshop, an annual event bringing together experts in the fields of mathematics and biology to set the course for future research directions in their fields. Faculty and junior researchers from across the country were invited to present, network, and collaborate to identify problems in biology that engage with mathematics. Discussions conducted at the workshop raised new opportunities NITMB will pursue in future workshops and initiatives.


David Schwab, Associate Professor of Physics and Biology, Graduate Center, City University of New York

David Schwab, Associate Professor of Physics and Biology, Graduate Center, City University of New York


“I think it was very important to participate in the [Emerging Directions Workshop] since I believe that this is where the directions of the Institute will be set” said Krešimir Josić, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Houston. Future directions of the Institute will be inspired by discussions that took place during four key aspects of the Emerging Directions Workshop: Speaker Sessions, Lightning Talks, Poster Sessions, and Brainstorming Sessions.


Speaker Sessions


Armita Nourmohammad, Associate Professor of  Physics, University of Washington

Armita Nourmohammad, Associate Professor of  Physics, University of Washington


Throughout the weeklong Emerging Directions Workshop, 13 research experts prepared broad-audience talks that described challenges of their interest. Questions and discussion were encouraged within each session so as to discover new approaches to mathematics and biology.



Avaneesh Narla, Stanford Science Fellow, Applied Physics

Avaneesh Narla, Stanford Science Fellow, Applied Physics


At the conclusion of each session, speakers would share pressing questions related to their work, sparking inquiry among workshop participants. The collaborative environment of the Emerging Directions Workshop meant problems were not only discussed during scheduled sessions, but also during breaks and after the conclusion of the event. Such discussion will develop new collaborations and research at the convergence of mathematics and biology.



Ann Kennedy, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience at Northwestern University, converses with Zhiru Liu, Bio-X Graduate Student Fellow at Stanford University

Ann Kennedy, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience at Northwestern University, converses with Zhiru Liu, Bio-X Graduate Student Fellow at Stanford University


Lightning Talks


Sadjad Arzash, Postdoctoral Researcher, Soft Matter and Biophysics, Syracuse University

Sadjad Arzash, Postdoctoral Researcher, Soft Matter and Biophysics, Syracuse University


Faculty members were not the only ones given time at the Emerging Directions Workshop to share their work. Lightning Talks gave numerous junior researchers the opportunity to briefly introduce themselves and their research interests to an engaged audience.



Laura Schaposnik, Assistant Professor of Mathematics, University of Illinois at Chicago

Laura Schaposnik, Assistant Professor of Mathematics, University of Illinois at Chicago


“I enjoyed the enthusiastic engagement of the community of junior researchers” remarked Thierry Mora, Researcher of Theoretical Biophysics at École Normale Supérieure. These Lightning Talks, and the following Poster Sessions, provided immense value not only to junior researchers, but also to established researchers, who were able to witness the innovative work of the next generation of scientists.


Poster Sessions


Yuncong Geng, PhD Student, Biophysics, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, speaks with Ryan Robinett, PhD Candidate, Computer Science, University of Chicago

Yuncong Geng, PhD Student, Biophysics, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, speaks with Ryan Robinett, PhD Candidate, Computer Science, University of Chicago


While Lightning Talks allowed workshop participants to quickly summarize their research, Poster Sessions provided a more relaxed, conversational environment for all workshop participants to engage around shared research interests.



Mason Rouches, Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry PhD Student, Yale University, speaks with Armita Nourmohammad, Associate Professor of  Physics, University of Washington

Mason Rouches, Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry PhD Student, Yale University, speaks with Armita Nourmohammad, Associate Professor of  Physics, University of Washington


Brainstorming Sessions


Participants engage in a Brainstorming Session at the Emerging Directions Workshop

Participants engage in a Brainstorming Session at the Emerging Directions Workshop


At the conclusion of each day of the workshop, participants reconvened as a large group to review the important questions raised throughout the day's sessions and discussions.



Antonio (Tuca) Auffinger, Associate Director of Convening Activities, Theme Leader

Antonio (Tuca) Auffinger, Associate Director of Convening Activities, Theme Leader


Participants collaboratively decided which questions were most important, as well as what they believed they could make the greatest contributions towards solving. They then broke into smaller groups, each focussing on a smaller set of related questions.



Nisha Chandramoorthy, Assistant Professor, Computational Science and Engineering, Georgia Tech

Nisha Chandramoorthy, Assistant Professor, Computational Science and Engineering, Georgia Tech


After an hour of enthusiastic debate and brainstorming, all groups returned to present their conclusions and seek feedback from other groups.



Efe Gökmen, Programme Doctorate at D-​PHYS, ETH Zürich

Efe Gökmen, Programme Doctorate at D-​PHYS, ETH Zürich


Brainstorming Sessions served as the culmination of all the day’s discussions, resulting in new ideas for research and the future of the NITMB.


The Future



Adam Kline, Graduate Student in Physics at the University of Chicago speaks to Efe Gökmen, Programme Doctorate at D-​PHYS, ETH Zürich

Adam Kline, Graduate Student in Physics at the University of Chicago speaks to Efe Gökmen, Programme Doctorate at D-​PHYS, ETH Zürich


“The Institute leaders are listening to the math-bio community, which is essential for the success of the Institute”

- Krešimir Josić, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Houston


The ultimate purpose of the annual Emerging Directions Workshops is to determine areas the NITMB will focus on in workshops, research initiatives, training activities, and more. This first Emerging Directions Workshop successfully raised a multitude of emerging research areas in mathematics and biology that the Institute will dedicate resources to over the rest of the year and beyond. 

 

Beyond the Institute, the Emerging Directions Workshop was a success in bringing expert mathematicians and biologists together to network and collaborate on pressing issues in their fields. Long after the workshop has concluded, the impact of these discussions will be witnessed in the future of mathematics, biology, and the convergence of these two fields.


“I think the workshop will impact the future of math and biology through networking and getting to know the community, as well as get an idea of what future workshops should include. Since this workshop was intentionally very broad, it was a good opportunity to cross-pollinate ideas across fields, and I had interesting discussions about that.”

- Thierry Mora, Researcher of Theoretical Biophysics at École Normale Supérieure


The success of the Emerging Directions Workshop was only the beginning for the NITMB. The Institute has scheduled its next workshop, ‘Ecological Dynamics of Microbial Communities: new approaches’ for late April and early May. This workshop, co-hosted between the NITMB and the University of Chicago’s Institute for Mathematical and Statistical Innovation, will take a problem-centric format on approaches to ecological dynamics of microbial communities, wherein participants will succinctly present open problems in their field, followed by group discussions and breakout sessions.







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