Plants by the Numbers: Math, Computation and the Future of Plant Biology

by Greg Watry

What does the future of plant biology education and research look like? That’s the question on the mind of Siobhan Brady, associate professor of plant biology at UC Davis.

Big data approaches will be key to advances in plant biology, so students need to be trained in these areas. Unknown author/Wikipedia (CC BY 2.5)

In a Plant Physiology commentary paper, Brady, along with 37 other plant biologists from around the world, call for universities to integrate more quantitative and computational techniques into biology-oriented academic curricula. Introducing these skills early, the group advises, will help prepare tomorrow’s plant biologists for the next era of genomics research.

Where Things Go Wrong: Perspective on Cascading Failures

By Aditi Risbud Bartl

Sometimes, one darn thing leads to another in a series of cascading failures. Understanding the weak points that lead to such cascades could help us make better investments in preventing them.

Professor Raissa D’Souza in the UC Davis College of Engineering studies complex systems and how they can go wrong.

In the Nov. 17 issue of Science, Raissa D’Souza, professor of computer science and mechanical and aerospace engineering at UC Davis, wrote a perspective article about cascading failures that arise from the reorganization of flows on a network, such as in electric power grids, supply chains and transportation networks.

Podcast: Knots, Math and Reconnection in DNA

If you’ve ever tried to untangle a pair of earbuds, you’ll understand how loops and cords can get twisted up. DNA can get tangled in the same way. In this episode of Three Minute Egghead, UC Davis biomathematician Mariel Vazquez talks about her work on the math of how DNA can be cut and reconnected. The math involved turns out to be involved in other fields as well — from fluid dynamics to solar flares.

https://soundcloud.com/andy-fell/knots-math-and-reconnection-in-dna

For more podcast episodes, subscribe to Three Minute Egghead on iTunes or follow us on Soundcloud.

NSF Grant Funds Math For National Security

Applying mathematics to detect chemical weapons, hidden explosives or other threats is the goal of an ongoing project at the UC Davis Department of Mathematics, supported by grants from the National Science Foundation.

Resolving blurred image with math

Blind deconvolution is a mathematical method to clarify a blurred image without knowledge of the original image, or how it was blurred. Top, original image; bottom, blurred image after blind deconvolution (Original image by Steve Byland).

Threat detection involves math at a range of levels, said Professor Thomas Strohmer, who leads the project. It can include quickly processing large amounts of data, coordinating multiple sensors, or extracting clarity from background noise.

New Twist on Sofa Problem That Stumped Mathematicians and Furniture Movers

Hobby 3-D Printing Leads to New Insights into Moving Sofa Problem

By Becky Oskin

Most of us have struggled with the mathematical puzzle known as the “moving sofa problem.” It poses a deceptively simple question: What is the largest sofa that can pivot around an L-shaped hallway corner?

A mover will tell you to just stand the sofa on end. But imagine the sofa is impossible to lift, squish or tilt. Although it still seems easy to solve, the moving sofa problem has stymied math sleuths for more than 50 years. That’s because the challenge for mathematicians is both finding the largest sofa and proving it to be the largest. Without a proof, it’s always possible someone will come along with a better solution.

Calculating just how fast Usain Bolt runs

With gold medals in three sprinting events at three Olympic Games, Usain Bolt has written himself into the record books as arguably the fastest human of all time. But just how fast is the Jamaican sprinter?

Three mathematicians, Sebastian Schreiber of UC Davis, Wayne Getz of UC Berkeley and Karl Smith of Santa Rosa Junior College, show how to calculate Bolt’s maximum velocity in the 100 meters at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in their 2014 textbook, “Calculus for the Life Sciences.”

This plot shows Usain Bolt's velocity measured at 10 meter intervals.

This plot shows Usain Bolt’s velocity measured at 10 meter intervals.

Q and A: Information theory and social evolution

Big Data has a problem right now. We produce an avalanche of information every day by just walking around with our smartphones or posting on social media. Researchers in the social sciences today are collaborating across disciplines to turn this wealth of information into knowledge.

Martin Hilbert, an assistant professor of communication at UC Davis, is developing new ways to think about how social scientists can use this data to understand societies. In this Q&A, he discusses what Big Data and living in an information society could mean for our social evolution.

Read the Q&A at the ISS website: http://socialscience.ucdavis.edu/iss-journal/research/turning-big-data-into-big-knowledge.

Math links ecological flash mobs and magnet physics

By Kat Kerlin

How does an acorn know to fall when the other acorns do? What triggers insects, or disease, to suddenly break out over large areas? Why do fruit trees have boom and bust years?

The question of what generates such synchronous, ecological “flash mobs” over long distances has long perplexed population ecologists. Part of the answer has to do with something seemingly unrelated: what makes a magnet a magnet.

Nobel winner headlines math/biology workshop

2013 Nobel laureate Michael Levitt of Stanford University will headline a one-day workshop on mathematics and biology to be held at UC Davis Nov. 22. Biology and Mathematics in the Bay Area aims at “creating a fairly informal atmosphere to explore the role of mathematics in biology,” according to the advance flyer. “Our goal is to encourage dialogue between researchers and students from different disciplines in an atmosphere that promotes the open exchange of ideas and viewpoints.”

Also speaking: Ileana Streinu at Smith College; Sean Mooney, Buck Institute; Sharon Aviran and Steve Kowalczykowski, UC Davis.

UC Davis to offer summer internships in physics, math to students from Mexico

Undergraduate math and physics students from Mexico will be able to take up research internships at UC Davis this summer under a new program supported by the Consulate General of Mexico in Sacramento.

The program will add an additional place each to the existing Research Experience for Undergraduates programs in the Departments of Mathematics and Physics. The REU program is sponsored by the National Science Foundation, but NSF rules allow non-citizens to be added to the program if other funds are used, said Manuel Calderón de la Barca Sánchez, associate professor of physics at UC Davis.