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New method helps map species genetic heritage

From the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign News Bureau: 

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Where did the songbird get its song? What branch of the bird family tree is closer to the flamingo – the heron or the sparrow?

These questions seem simple, but are actually difficult for geneticists to answer. A new, sophisticated statistical technique developed by researchers at the University of Illinois and the University of Texas at Austin can help researchers construct more accurate species trees detailing the lineage of genes and the relationships between species.

The method, called statistical binning, was used in the Avian Phylogenetics Project, the subject of a Dec. 12 special issue of the journal Science.

“A species tree is a way of describing how a species evolved from a common ancestor,” said study leader Tandy Warnow, Founder Professor of Bioengineering and Computer Science at the University of Illinois. “Researchers use a species tree to do all sorts of things, like figure out when different traits came into being, and what triggered that trait evolution, and how those things may or may not have been triggered by environmental changes.” Read the rest of this entry »

UC- Berkeley graduate student Jasmine Nirody on mechanistic models of bacterial movement

How do bacteria move? Can we turn to math and physics for answers? Jasmine Nirody, a graduate student at UC-Berkeley, has been fascinated with how organisms move since she was a little kid. Now she is using that passion to study how tiny organisms like bacteria move despite the large frictional and viscous forces acting against them in their environments. Using principles from applied mathematics and theoretical biophysics, Nirody is studying how flagellar forces help bacteria move via mechanistic models of the bacterial flagellar motor.

Watch the video to learn more!

Arthur Lander on modeling normal versus rampant cell growth

How do the basics of what goes on in our tissues during normal development give us a better understanding of what happens when things go awry in the malignant disease state? In this clip, Arthur Lander of the University of California, Irvine, speaks about how biological systems use control and regulation to achieve or maintain desired outcomes in growth and development. Controlled growth is not only essential for biological development, but also plays an important role in preventing the kinds of out-of-control growth we see in certain cancers.  Lander’s group builds mathematical models that mimic real tissues in order to understand normal growth control. Using such models, his lab is determining how morphogenesis is achieved by turning growth on and off in certain desired locations via regulated feedback between growing cells and those that produce tissues.

Watch the video to learn more!

DARPA seeks approach to predict chikungunya virus spread

From Science Magazine:

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is turning to scientists to help forecast the next outbreak of the mosquito-borne chikungunya virus, announcing its first  health-related challenge. DARPA is offering $150,000 for the best new approach.   The virus causes high fever, joint and muscle pain, headache, nausea, fatigue, and rash While the infection is very rarely fatal, the painful swelling of joints is usually prolonged and can be disabling. DARPA has a special interest in protecting U.S. soldiers in different parts of the world from being infected.

Read the full story on sciencemag.org.

 

A chat with Mathematics and Climate authors

View a Google Hangout interview with Hans Kaper and Hans Engler, authors of the book, Mathematics and Climate.

The book was published by SIAM in October 2013, and has been honored by the Atmospheric Science Librarians International (ASLI) as the best book of 2013 in the fields of meteorology, climatology, and atmospheric sciences.

How can mathematical and statistical tools help us understand the dynamics of the Earth’s climate system? What are conceptual climate models and how do they aid in predicting future climate? What should mathematicians and scientists do to reinforce the urgency with which we should be tackling one of the biggest problems of our time? Read the rest of this entry »

The world, through a mathematical lens

Free Math Modeling handbook published by SIAM

Free Math Modeling handbook published by SIAM

Math modeling handbook now available

Philadelphia, PA—Math comes in handy for answering questions about a variety of topics, from calculating the cost-effectiveness of fuel sources and determining the best regions to build high-speed rail to predicting the spread of disease and assessing roller coasters on the basis of their “thrill” factor. How does math do all that?

That is the topic of a free handbook published by the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) this month: “Math Modeling: Getting Started and Getting Solutions.”

Finding a solution to any of the aforementioned problems—or the multitude of other unanswered questions in the real world—will likely involve the creation, application, and refinement of a mathematical model. A math model is a mathematical representation of a real-world situation intended to gain a qualitative or quantitative understanding in order to predict future behavior. Such predictions allow us to come up with novel findings, enable scientific advances, and make informed decisions.

The handbook provides instructions and a process for building mathematical models using a variety of examples to answer wide-ranging questions. Read the rest of this entry »

How does innovation take hold in a community? Math modeling can provide clues

nugget_icon2Philadelphia, PA—Mathematical models can be used to study the spread of technological innovations among individuals connected to each other by a network of peer-to-peer influences, such as in a physical community or neighborhood. One such model was introduced in a paper published yesterday in the SIAM Journal on Applied Dynamical Systems.

Authors N. J. McCullen, A. M. Rucklidge, C. S. E. Bale, T. J. Foxon, and W. F. Gale focus on one main application: The adoption of energy-efficient technologies in a population, and consequently, a means to control energy consumption. By using a network model for adoption of energy technologies and behaviors, the model helps evaluate the potential for using networks in a physical community to shape energy policy. Read the rest of this entry »

Finding answers in big data sets

 Philadelphia, PA—Whether you’ve watched an elaborate weather forecast, made an online purchase, or received personalized news stories in your inbox in recent years, you’ve likely seen “big data” in action.

Big data is everywhere these days, be it personalized ad targeting, weather and climate modeling, or flu trend analysis to mention just a few.

Ever-increasing amounts of data are now available thanks to many modern realities: e-commerce and transaction-based information that has been stored over the years,  data streaming in from growing social media activity and rising Web traffic, and sensor data from the increased use of digital sensors in industrial equipment, electrical meters, automobiles, and satellites, for example. With decreasing storage costs, archiving this data has also become easier than ever. Read the rest of this entry »

Mathematicians tackle global issues


 Philadelphia, PA– More than 100 academic institutions and scholarly societies have joined in a major world-wide initiative: Mathematics of Planet Earth (MPE) 2013. This year-long effort will highlight the contributions made by mathematics in tackling global problems, including natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and tsunamis; climate change; sustainability; and pandemics. MPE2013 partners will sponsor workshops, research conferences, public lectures, outreach events, and educational opportunities for all ages.  Each country from a partner institution will host a special launch to the year.

MPE2013 enjoys the patronage of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.  The Director-General of UNESCO, Irena Bokova, said, “UNESCO strongly supports this extraordinary collaboration of mathematicians around the world to advance research on fundamental questions about planet Earth, to nurture a better understanding of global issues, to help inform the public, and to enrich the school curriculum about the essential role of mathematics in the challenges facing our planet.” Read the rest of this entry »

Mathematics and fine art: Digitizing paintings through image processing

Philadelphia, PA – September 25, 2012—The current trend to digitize everything is not lost on fine art. Documenting, distributing, conserving, storing and restoring paintings require that digital copies be made. The Google Art Project, which brings art from galleries around the world to online audiences, was launched in early 2011 for precisely these reasons.  Google’s project has been a complex undertaking, however, carried out under carefully controlled settings using state-of-the-art equipment and requiring rigorous post-production work.

In a paper published this month in the SIAM Journal on Imaging Sciences, authors Gloria Haro, Antoni Buades and Jean-Michel Morel propose a far simpler technique that can achieve reliable reproductions of paintings using fusion of photographs taken from different angles through statistical methods. One of the main advantages of the method described is that image fusion obviates the need for a high-performance camera.

“This article demonstrates the possibility of acquiring a good quality image of a painting from amateur snapshots taken in bursts from different angles, in normal museum illumination,” senior author Jean-Michel Morel said via e-mail. “The photographing procedure is simple and can be done with a commercial hand-held camera by an amateur photographer.” Thus, paintings can be digitized even under poor light conditions, and this includes museum pieces that may be protected by glass screens that reflect light from other objects in the room.

The simple photographic procedure eliminates the need for sophisticated illumination and acquisition requirements. The postproduction process, while intensive, is fully automated. The fusion of multiple images of a painting from well-chosen angles can eliminate glare, highlights and motion blur. Robust statistical methods reduce noise and compensate for optical distortion, thus addressing the problem of uncontrolled illumination and destructive reflection that tends to be seen in many digitized paintings.

Read the rest of this entry »