5 Reasons Biologists Love Math


Biologists use math in a variety of ways, from designing experiments to mapping complex biological systems. Credit: Stock image.

On Saturday (at 9:26:53 to be exact), math lovers and others around the world will celebrate Pi—that really long number that represents the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. I asked our scientific experts why math is important to biomedical research. Here are a few reasons.

  1. Math allows biologists to describe how molecules move in and out of cells, how bacteria shuttle through blood vessels, how drugs get broken down in the body and many other physiological processes.
  2. Studying the geometry, topology and other physical characteristics of DNA, proteins and cellular structures has shed light on their functions and on approaches for enhancing or disrupting those functions.
  3. Math helps scientists design their experiments, including clinical trials, so they result in meaningful data, a.k.a statistical significance.
  4. Scientists use math to piece together all the different parts of a cell, an organ or an entire organism to better understand how the parts interact and how perturbations in these complex systems may contribute to disease.
  5. Sometimes it’s impossible or too difficult to answer a research question through traditional lab experiments, so biologists rely on math to develop models that represent the system they’re studying, whether it’s a metastasizing cancer cell or an emerging infectious disease. These approaches allow scientists to indicate the likelihood of certain outcomes as well as refine the research questions.

Want more? Here’s a video with 10 reasons biologists should know some math.

4 Replies to “5 Reasons Biologists Love Math”

  1. In addition to the 10 good reasons, in the final analysis, when a science matures in its development it then describes all its subjects of inquiry as mathematical structures. One of the great benefits of this, is taat things can be proven mathematically showing relationships that we have not found yet or even had not suspected. The planet Neptune was never really discovered as the other planets had been. From the data or the rest of the solar system at the time, the application of pure mathematics could not only prove that there was another planet “out there”, but many of its properties were determined by mathematics. Most important, the mathematics told the telescope empirical scientists where to look and when, so they then saw Neptune for the first time.

    Much of the work in physics, chemistry and astronomy today is mathematical and biology is beginning to mature so that each month makes the science more mathematical and predictive. There is always a need to empirically validate that which was proven mathematically, but there is much less of the new data producing hunches that we then synthesize and structure, and more of the mathematics of the structures determining where and how we should observe and measure.

    Today, the biologist requires more mathematics than the physicists used in Darwin’s era until Einstein and Relativity came along and everyone had to learn more mathematics. And the modern biologist requires more mathematics than the average Chemist needed until later in the 20th century.

    The day when you could be a good biologist but not study math or not be “good at math” is receding into the past.

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