This project provides two cohorts of six undergraduate students with cross-disciplinary education in Biology and Mathematics with emphasis on collaborative learning through original research projects connected to aquatic ecosystems. Research activities begin with a targeted intensive course sequence in Mathematical Modeling in Biology that introduces mathematical concepts and methods through biological examples and demonstrates relevant laboratory and computational techniques. While taking this course, students participate in a Research Seminar where research problems in aquatic biology are introduced. In year two the cohorts design and implement their own research plan to investigate a current problem concerning aquatic life in the Great Lakes. The students are extensively mentored by biology and mathematics faculty and graduate students.
Intellectual Merit: The research area is exciting, modern, relevant, and reflects the interests and expertise of participating faculty. The problems follow two main threads: (a) the composition and dynamics of aquatic microbial communities including the evaluation of critical elements, the identification of controlling variables, and the exploration of chaotic systems; and (b) the evaluation and integration of new molecular datasets into traditional frameworks. These problems naturally benefit from and necessitate a combined mathematical and biological approach. The interdisciplinary approach together with the intensive collaborative work advances the understanding of these problems and contributes to better policy decisions and implementations concerning the nation's aquatic resources.
Broader Impacts: The program serves as a model to extend and encourage undergraduate research as well as interdisciplinary collaborations. The program identifies, motivates, and trains future professionals with a skill set that is highly relevant to problems of management of natural resources. It combines significant scientific problems with integrated teaching and learning approaches which engage and motivate students. The activities foster interdisciplinary collaborations between the faculty of the Department of Biological Sciences, the Department of Mathematical Sciences, and the Great Lakes Water Institute. These collaborations lead to more enhanced research opportunities as well as more team-teaching and the development of an integrated Mathematical Modeling in Biology course that is expected to be one of the core courses in an interdisciplinary Biology and Mathematics major. Because the research projects are highly relevant to national interests in restoring and maintaining the health of the Great Lakes, the results of the program are being made available for use by the scientific community as well as by non-scientists and public-policy decision makers.