Frontiers in Biomathematics
Coordinator: Denise Lello
Class Meetings: Mondays- Wednesdays September 12– October 5
Mondays only, October 17-December 12
September 12-October 5 in Bass Hall 103
October 17-December 12 in Ford Hall 240
7:15-9:15 p.m.
Office Hours: Sabin Reed 352
Monday 9-11
Tuesday 3-5
or by appointment

This is a gateway course to the Five College Certificate Program in Biomathematical Sciences and the Four College Biomath Consortium (4CBC) Fellowship Program. Open to all students. 4 credits. Students attend Mondays and Wednesdays September 12 through October 5 and Mondays only October 17-December 12, complete the two group projects and attend two biomath seminars, one in September at Smith College and one in October at Amherst College.  Graded S/U only.


This interdisciplinary seminar explores topics at the intersection of the life and mathematical sciences. The course begins with an introduction to and practice with Matlab, the software package that will be used in the second part of the course. Students spend two class sessions each week for the first four weeks learning script writing.  The second part of the course includes two modules, each of which introduces students to a biomath research question.  Students work in groups to collect data and investigate modeling and analytical tools that can reveal meaning in the data. Each module will be co-taught by two faculty members, one from the life sciences and one from the quantitative sciences. The emphasis throughout the course will be on formulating lines of inquiry and learning to develop and test conceptual models.

Faculty will provide the necessary background (from biology and mathematics) through readings and short lectures and demonstrations that reveal the motivation for their research topic. Students will learn how relevant data is collected and in some cases collect original data. They will also learn how to use modeling and data analysis tools appropriate for each module.  The course will encourage students to work in groups to develop their own lines of inquiry and explore novel ways of approaching the questions.  At the end of each module, groups will present their ideas and findings to the class.


September 12: Introduction to Biomathematics and the Frontiers Course
Introduction to software package
Rob Dorit (Smith College, Biological Sciences)
Derek Wood (UMass, Physics)
Denise Lello (Smith College, Biomathematical Sciences Concentration)

September 12-October 5: Using software to execute models, analysis and graphical presentation
Derek Wood (UMass,  Physics)

October 17, October 24, October 31, Nov. 7: Module 1 Mining Big Data In Infectious Disease Outbreaks 

November 9: 4CBC Fellows research presentations

November 14, November 28, December 5 and 12:  Simulating Microtubules

Prerequisites: Background in biology or mathematics is not a prerequisite, but students should have a willingness to engage in group problem-solving and to take intellectual risks.


  • Become familiar with current questions in the life sciences and some of the ways that mathematical and computational tools can reveal patterns and meaning in biological data.
  • Gain familiarity with basic biology concepts included in research questions. These will vary each time the course is offered depending on the modules included.
  • Learn to construct mathematical models conceptually.
  • Gain exposure to mathematical and statistical concepts.
  • Learn to use computational tools and software to test models and analyze data.


1. Class attendance and participation are MANDATORY.  There are no excused absences except in the case of medical or personal emergencies.  These must be cleared before the absence.  Credit will not be awarded for students who miss more than one class (see variable credit attendance requirements).

2. Weekly reading and exercises (check Moodle):

  • These are graded only as done or not done
  • Due by the next class.
  • Designed to make sure you have understood the major concepts and ideas discussed in the seminar so that you can be an active participant during discussions.
  • May require a post to the Moodle Forum.
  • E-mail questions or come prepared to ask questions during the following seminar or at coordinator’s office hour

3. Assignments (2)

Students will work in groups that include both students with primary interest in biology and those whose focus is more quantitative.  Each group will be responsible for two presentations during the semester.  All students will be required to submit individual write-ups for both projects. A rubric will be provided prior to the assignment. Collaboration on these assignments is required, however each student must turn in their own independent write-up.

Grading – S/U