Marshall University's UBM program is a coordinated education and research initiative to prepare Mathematics and Biological Sciences undergraduates to pursue graduate study and careers at the interface of the disciplines. The program's research component begins with engagement of teams of 2-4 students in intensive summer research experiences and participation in a data club. An Introduction to Mathematical Biology course during the prior semester prepares students for the summer. The teams continue their research during the next academic year, and participate in a Mathematical Biology Seminar during which they present their work and prepare for presentations at local and national symposia and conferences. Students can also apply for a second year of support to continue with their research projects. Additional coursework is targeted to individual students' need for strengthening of biological or mathematical training. Collectively the research and coordinated classroom activities foster development of skills at problem-solving, experimentation, and communication. Students also receive extensive research mentoring and academic advisement by faculty (from both disciplines), as this can be a successful mechanism for guiding students to graduate programs.

The research component has as its intellectual focus the non-linear characterization of and prediction of change in biological phenomena, a focus designed to increase students' understanding of observed patterns over time, and increase predictive precision through higher mathematics. Physiological projects include mass-dependent allometric and temperature effects of oxygen consumption rates of freshwater mussels, the optimal feeding rates of freshwater mussels, and a curvature analysis of plant stems' gravitropic reorientation in response to horizontal placement. A genetics project focuses on the relationship between epithelial cell shape and polarity in Drosophila, while an environmental study entails modeling of the influence of road-side trees on urban climate.

Recruitment efforts focus on freshmen and sophomore students, with an interest in attracting talented female, minority, and Appalachian first generation college students. The program capitalizes on the participating faculty's experience with sponsoring student research through participation in several programs aimed at broadening participation of underrepresented minorities and students with disabilities, including the Marshall Chapter of the WV Space Grant Consortium's NASA Research Scholarships Program, the NSF Kentucky-WV Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, and the state-funded Marshall Summer Undergraduate Research Experience. In addition to sponsoring student engagement in mentored research in mathematical biology, the Marshall UBM program is enhancing curriculum development by integrating mathematical biology concepts into new and existing courses, lab exercises, and projects, an effort that is expected to ultimately benefit all students in the College of Science.

Project Report

The Marshall University's UBM program was a coordinated education and research initiative to prepare Mathematics and Biological Sciences undergraduates to pursue graduate study and careers at the interface of the disciplines. The program supported year-long research projects and a Topics in Mathematical Biology course. Each research project began with an intensive summer research experience for cohorts of students and faculty members from mathematics and biological sciences. Overall, four research projects were supported providing data sets, image collections, computer simulations, and teaching materials. In all, Marshall’s UBM Program supported 8 female and 6 male students. Mathematical Modeling of Resilin in the Kinematics of the Mantis Strike Many insects are capable of producing incredibly fast movements for behaviors like flying and jumping. To produce these movements insects have anatomical and physiological adaptations that allow them to effectively transfer forces produced by muscle contractions to joints in their leg. Resilin, an elastic protein found in arthropods such as insects and crustaceans, has remarkable properties to assist in fast movement. The research goal was to study the role of resilin in the prey capture strike of the Praying Mantis. Students mapped the distribution of resilin in the mantis leg, and reconstructed these structures in a mathematical model. We used this model to determine at what point in the strike resilin may be important, and how energy produced by muscle contraction or by striking the prey item may be stored and released. The model was adapted for a computer based learning tool that allows students to perform simulated experiments to explore the properties of muscles and tendons and how these structures produce movements. Freshwater Mussel Metabolism Project Freshwater mussels aggregate into dense communities known as mussel beds. The goal of this study was to compare the respiration rates of individual specimens of Pyganodon grandis with the respiration rates of various sizes and densities of grouped mussels to determine if the group-entity of a mussel bed followed a universal ecological scaling law that predicted that the amount of energy required for survival was reduced for individuals in a community. Students performed respiration experiments on individuals and various densities of mussels. Overall, the respiration rate per mussel decreased with increased group density. The behavior of an individual mussel was shown to change when in proximity to others of the same species, causing the aggregation to metabolically behave like a single larger entity, a phenomenon not previously quantified in freshwater mussels. The results of the experiments, include two students first-authored manuscripts being prepared for peer reviewed publication. The project also led to related experiments to identify the mechanism of intra-mussel communication, which is hypothesized to be a chemical cue. Mathematical Epidemiology of Multiple Wave Influenza Pandemics Project A striking characteristic of influenza pandemics is the multiple peaks of infection. The United States has experienced two peaks of infection in each of the past four influenza pandemics, one peak during the summer months and a second peak during the typical flu season. This project used agent-based modeling to investigate mechanisms that can generate two peaks of infection. Modeling of influenza outbreaks was developed using the NetLogo programmable modeling environment. The students developed a base seasonal model, on which all model modifications were built. Four modifications were developed to study influenza control strategies – isolation, quarantine, vaccination, and antivirals. Three modifications were developed to study mechanisms for pandemics – waning immunity, periodic transmission chance, and two-populations. Students investigated the models using parameter ranges corresponding to influenza outbreaks in the US. A case study about an influenza outbreak on campus was developed for undergraduate microbiology courses. The case incorporates five of the NetLogo models and introduces epidemiological modeling. All nine NetLogo programs will be available on the NetLogo website. Plant Gravitropism When plants fall down, they need to get up! This requires a complex, dynamic pattern of growth changes that cause the lower side of the stem to grow faster than the upper side resulting in upward curvature, called gravitropism. This project aimed to mathematically define the regions of stem growth and curvature during gravitropism. Students used time-lapse image series of curving stems to model differences in the pattern of curvature resulting from plant hormone treatment. Increased production of the plant hormone ethylene in stems caused the point of maximum curvature to occur in a localized area which was closer to the tip compared to the control plants. The procedures and time-lapse images from this project were used to produce laboratory exercises, educational plant movies, and an article of how to integrate of plant videos into teaching plant biology.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE)
Standard Grant (Standard)
Application #
Program Officer
Lee L. Zia
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Marshall University Research Corporation
United States
Zip Code