by Stephen Curry
First of all – following on from the last post, many congratulations to the Imperial College team for their successes in the Grand Final of the iGEM competition in Boston, in which they were runners-up. What a fantastic achievement!
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to see the team’s talk before they left of the US and was mightily impressed. Not just by the quality of the work in the project and the presentation, but also by the inclusion of some maths in their analyses, which was used to model the rate of production of plant growth hormones by their engineered bacteria.
First order differential equations may cause some biology and biochemistry students to blanche but it’s all a matter of having an appropriate introduction. Maths is an inescapable part of the modern life sciences and so is being given more attention. For more background on this, have a look at this article by me in the Times Higher Education magazine.
Although we do not ask for A level maths as an entry requirement, we feel it is still important that our students learn to see the value of the discipline in biology and biochemistry. The question is: what is the best way to go about that?
I popped into one of the maths tutorials that we run for first year biochemists the other week to see how they were getting on with practice in calculus. Pretty well, it seemed to me. But what do you think? I would be interested to know your views the subject.
In the meantime, have a look at a recent article on Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science column in the Guardian. It shows very nicely how even a modest understanding of maths can prevent you from drawing the wrong conclusion from your data. If you’d like to read more of Dr Goldacre’s output, I can recommend his Bad Science book, which is currently going cheap in its Kindle incarnation. It’s not very mathsy but is very good on the question of evidence.
Update (17th Nov, 16:16): A piece in today’s Guardian about plans for changing maths education in schools.