As can be seen from numerous entries in this blog, mathematics, statistics, and the computational sciences are having impact and influence on a wide array of disciplines that fall under the umbrella of Mathematics of Planet Earth. In fact, in his book “The Mathematics of Life,” Ian Stewart cites the following five revolutions in biology:

– the invention of the microscope,

– the systematic classification of the planet’s living creatures,

– the theory of evolution,

– the discovery of the gene, and

– the discovery of the structure of DNA.

He then expresses the idea that a sixth is on its way: the application of mathematical insight to biological processes. (For a review of the book by John Adam in the AMS Notices, click here.)

However, another exciting aspect of the relationship between mathematics and biology is the potential — the expectation even — that biology will provide the impetus for new mathematics, and that the feedback loop between mathematics and biology will be at least as influential and exciting as the one mathematics and physics has enjoyed for over 2000 years.

An excellent place to get a feel for this growing relationship is in Joel Cohen’s essay “Mathematics Is Biology’s Next Microscope, Only Better; Biology Is Mathematics’ Next Physics, Only Better”.

In a related vein, NSF’s Mathematical Biosciences Institute (MBI) hosted the meeting “Math Biology: Looking at the Future” in September 2012. At this meeting, 11 distinguished speakers talked about areas at the interface of mathematics and biology where exciting progress has been made in recent years and where future advances can be expected. Titles and abstracts — and full lecture video for most of the talks — can be found here.

Whether it’s Math-to-Bio, Bio-to-Math, or both, it’s an exciting time to be exploring and expanding the interface.

Tony Nance

MBI