In the photo: The UPLB BioMath charter team. We always say: "Collaboration is the key... Collaborate with us!"
Many Filipinos are allergic to Science and Mathematics. It seems that any conversation about these subjects should be confined inside the four corners of the classroom. However, it is absurd to say that Science and Math do not have practical applications in our lives --- the skyscrapers in Makati, our cellphones and laptops, the medicine that we take when we are sick, and the cars that we use to go to the office are all products of science inventions and mathematical precision. Probably we do not realize and feel the power of Science and Math because there are gaps between the Science and Math taught in schools (usually called as basic, theoretical or pure) and the Science and Math applied in our everyday lives. I took undergraduate and graduate studies in Applied Mathematics that is why I am fortunate to see the practical applications of mathematics in business/finance (my major in undergraduate is Operations Research) and in biology (my major in graduate studies is biomathematics).
Before I introduce what BioMath is, which is the core of this article, let me say first these ideas:
--- Science and Mathematics are not about speed in answering quizzes nor winning quiz bees. If we think that Science and Math are only for geeks, then definitely we are not going to appreciate the beauty of these fields of study.
--- Mathematics is not only about numbers nor about formulas. We need to see the discipline of math beyond arithmetic. In general, Math is about logic and about patterns that we see (and we do not see) around us.
--- Math is a language. If we do not use it then we will soon forget it. That is why our teachers always tell us to “practice, practice, practice”.
--- Math is a tool for solving problems. According to Napoleon: “there cannot be a great nation without great mathematics”. If we are afraid of Math and Science, then we are doomed! Imagine a government that only relies on intuition and not on quantitative measurements. Imagine a Congress that relies on emotions and not on logic. Imagine a society that relies on pseudo-science and not on facts and tested theories.
Without innovative research and development, our nation will stay as a follower of first world countries. I am not talking about simple inventions that we see in school fairs, but I am talking about innovation as great as the inventions by Apple, Samsung and Toyota. It is a cycle. Innovative scientific researches bring money and boost the economy. In the same way, good economy provides more money to fund scientific researches. We need to start this loop of innovation-wealth-innovation to improve the lives of Filipinos.
It is already March, the month of graduation. For elementary graduates, enjoy your high school but do not be hard-headed. For the high school graduates, good luck in choosing the degree that you are planning to take. For the graduates of colleges and universities, do not forget what you have learned and continue to soar high. For those who want to shift to another college degree and for those who want to take new challenges, it is not yet too late. If you are not yet decided what career you want to pursue then let me introduce to you my field of expertise: BioMath. Yes… sounds like Bioman, the Japanese version of Power Rangers. The word “BioMath” is a contraction of the word “BioMathematics”.
BioMathematics is Mathematics + Biology. In the field of BioMathematics or Mathematical Biology, we aim to help solve emerging problems in biology and biomedicine by providing quantitative solutions and analysis. Biological systems are too complex to be investigated as is; thus, we use abstract mathematical models that are easy to be manipulated and analyzed. To understand complex biological phenomena, we translate the biological ideas into the language of Mathematics. This is because we presume that “Mathematics is the language with which God wrote the Universe” (Galileo Galilei). Math is based on logical structure that can represent almost all physical things and interacting systems in nature.
Math has predictive power. In many cases, we can calculate and propose answers to the what, when, where and how questions of biologists. For example, in our recent paper published in the Bulletin of Mathematical Biology (Springer), we proposed mathematical programming models for determining the optimal location of beehives in order to minimize overpopulation of bee foragers and to maximize bee pollination of high-valued crops [link: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24619810]. Math is also used by researchers to study the spread of diseases, such as HIV and Ebola. Moreover, using mathematical prediction, experimentalist can have a guide to minimize trial and error in experiments. In our paper published in the journal Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology (Elsevier), we proposed an alternative scheme for cellular reprogramming that can be useful in cancer research [link: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25641423]. Mathematical algorithms are also being used in drug discovery, especially for personalized medicine.
The application area of BioMath is wide because research topics range from molecular to organismal to ecological (community) level. This is why the methods of BioMath are also applicable to the study of community systems in the fields of Social Sciences and Economics. One of the researches of my students forecast the population dynamics of the Philippines if our government would implement maximum number of children a family can have (n-child policy) [link: http://dx.doi.org/10.7718/ijss.v8i1.667]. Statistics is one of the traditional tools in Biology, but BioMath involve other mathematical tools, such as but not limited to differential equations, computer simulations and network theory. These quantitative tools can be learned in advanced math courses.
In the Philippines, BioMath is in infancy stage. There are only few universities that offer BioMath courses. UPLB is offering BioMathematics as option in its BS Applied Mathematics program (Operations Research and Actuarial Science/Financial Mathematics are the other options). UP Diliman is also offering Mathematics in Life and Physical Sciences as one of the tracks in MS Applied Mathematics. The BioMath community is still a minority but we are gaining momentum and we are pursuing to have more research output than can help the Philippine community. BioMath with Bioinformatics are aiding the genome research in our country. The people from BioMath, Biophysics and Computational Physics are also working hand in hand to study the realm of complex systems.
In the international arena, BioMathematics is already flourishing. Huge funding has been given to different research and academic teams, and there are already many research output published in high-impact journals. The Society of Mathematical Biology (SMB) and the European Society for Mathematical and Theoretical Biology (ESMTB) are some of the international organizations of BioMathematicians. Several institutions are conducting trainings in BioMath, such as Centre International de Mathématiques Pures et Appliquées (CIMPA), Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Italy, and Mathematical Biosciences Institute (MBI) in Ohio, USA. I encourage young Filipino researchers to apply to these institutions because they offer financial support to citizens of developing countries. Choosing research and teaching as career can be rewarding as long as you are resourceful enough. You can find scholarships abroad to support your graduate studies. You can visit many countries because of research work. If you are interested in what we do, you can read the paper by Dr. Eduardo R. Mendoza (who is the “father” of BioMath in the Philippines) published in Philippine Science Letters [link: http://www.philsciletters.org/pdf/200914.pdf].
In this modern era, research and development is now becoming fully multi-disciplinary. We need to establish collaboration with other people outside our field. Through this interdisciplinary collaboration, we escape the compartmentalized and traditional system of education. Now, I am enjoying Math and Science than ever. Well, I must admit that Math and Science are not for the weak and impatient, but we should not avoid these subjects. Give Math and Science a chance… If not for you, then maybe for your kids.
About the author:
Jomar Fajardo Rabajante is a faculty member of the University of the Philippines Los Baños and currently finishing his PhD studies in Shizuoka University, Japan. He attended several research schools and conferences in Asia, Australia, Europe and USA.