Whats next as biology, math combine forces, reciprocate in discovery

ARLINGTON, Va.--As if caught in some Venn diagram whose intersection just keeps growing, mathematics and biology are increasingly commingled in efforts yielding discoveries. Joel E. Cohen, director of the Laboratory of Populations at Rockefeller University, will examine the convergence Thursday, June 12, in a lecture titled, "Mathematics is Biology's Next Microscope, Only Better; Biology is Mathematics' Next Physics, Only Better."

Journalists are welcome to attend the one-hour talk, the first in the National Science Foundation's 21st Century Biology Lecture Series. It will begin at noon in Room 110 at NSF.

According to Cohen, as microscopes did in the 17th century, mathematics (by its treatment of biological data) is revealing a world formerly invisible. Conversely, "biology can stimulate the creation of new realms of mathematics," much as the pursuit of physical problems centuries ago led to advances such as geometry and calculus.

In the territory where math and biology converge, several factors make Cohen a model citizen:

  • For decades he has researched and developed complex mathematical models to illustrate the dynamics of food webs, human populations, infectious diseases and other ecological phenomena.
  • Among his many honors is a share of the 1999 Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, for which he used his $100,000 award to establish scholarships for junior high and high school students.
  • He has published more than 300 academic papers and authored several books, including "How Many People Can the Earth Support?" in 1995 and "Absolute Zero Gravity," a book of scientific and mathematical jokes (co-written with Betsy Devine) in 1992.

Samuel Scheiner, an officer with NSF's Population Biology Program, calls Cohen "one of the leading researchers in theoretical population and community ecology for decadeswith ground-breaking work on a variety of problemswide-ranging in his interests and extreme

Contact: Sean Kearns
National Science Foundation

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