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Video: Research (and some B.E.E.R.) fuels ISU’s biomath program

One day last fall, Stacy Mowry, M.S. ’15, stood in front of the best and brightest minds in her chosen field—biomathematics—and talked about her own research into baffling behavior seen in mongooses.

Then, a few moments later, she threw on a jersey, laced up her sneakers, and lined up against those same best and brightest minds for a soccer match just off Illinois State’s Quad.

The biologists vs. mathematicians soccer match is a tradition at the Biomathematics and Ecology Education and Research conference. “B.E.E.R.” started as a one-room event at Illinois State but has grown into the second-largest biomathematics conference in the U.S., giving students like Mowry an opportunity to network with researchers and educators from both halves of this developing field.

The soccer was just a bonus for Mowry—a quirk of the tight-knit biomath community. She plans to earn her Ph.D. and continue her research into animal behavior.

“It’s a subject that’s worth a life of investigation,” Mowry said.

Related Article: Emerging power ISU is a national force in biomathematics.

Biomath uses mathematical techniques to understand biology, such as modeling the spread of an infectious disease. Illinois State’s biomath graduate program launched in 2007 and has grown in stature in part due to its research output. Illinois State is home to two biomath journals, including the only one in the world for undergraduate research, and is headquarters for the Intercollegiate Biomathematics Alliance.

“Illinois State is now an upcoming, emerging powerhouse in the biomathematics field, especially in the U.S.,” said Professor Olcay Akman, director of the program.

At BEER Mowry talked about her thesis, which explores what’s called “reproductive skew” in animal groups, in her case mongooses. Could using math theory help explain why lesser members in a social mating group devote resources and energy to offspring that are not their own?

“It’s really this biological paradox,” she said.

Ryan Denham can be reached at rmdenha@IllinoisState.edu.

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