National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis
The National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis is a research institute focused on the science of mathematics and biology. Known by its acronym NIMBioS (pronounced NIM-bus), the Institute opened in September 2008, arising from a collaborative agreement between the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with additional support from The University of Tennessee (UT), Knoxville. NIMBioS hosts more than 600 scientists each year at its facility located on the UT campus.
Primary goals of NIMBios are:
- to address key biological questions using cross-disciplinary approaches in mathematical biology
- to foster the development of a cadre of researchers who are capable of conceiving and engaging in creative and collaborative connections across disciplines.
To achieve its goals, NIMBioS advances a wide variety of research and outreach/education activities designed to facilitate interaction between mathematicians and biologists to arrive at innovative solutions to environmental problems. Two primary mechanisms for research are Working Groups and Investigative Workshops. Working Groups are composed of 10-15 invited participants focusing on specific questions related to mathematical biology. Each group typically meets at the Institute two to three times over the course of two years. Investigative workshops may include 30-40 participants with some invited by organizers and others accepted through an open application process. Workshops are more general in focus and may lead to working group formation. NIMBioS also provides support for post-doctoral and sabbatical fellows, short-term visitors, graduate research assistants, and faculty collaborators at UT.
Research activities have investigated intragenomic conflict, multi-scale simulation of cellular processes, human origins, natural system dynamics, and infectious diseases in systems with wildlife hosts.
NIMBioS encourages multidisciplinary participation in all its activities. Participants at NIMBioS have included behavioral biologists, ecologists, evolutionary biologists, computational scientists, anthropologists, geneticists, psychologists, bioinformaticians, mathematicians, statisticians, veterinarians, epidemiologists, and wildlife biologists.
NIMBioS has an active Education and Outreach program with events and activities for everyone from elementary school students through college professors and the general public. At the college level, NIMBioS organizes a Research Experience for Undergraduates program for eight weeks each summer. Undergraduates majoring in math, biology, and related fields live on campus and work in collaborative teams with UT professors on a variety of biological research projects using mathematical methods. NIMBioS also hosts the annual Undergraduate Research Conference at the Interface of Biology and Mathematics each fall, featuring student talks and poasters as well as panel discussions. Programs for graduate students include the Visiting Graduate Student Fellowship offering training and research visits for up to several months by graduate students interested in pursuing research with NIMBioS senior personnel, postdoctoral fellows or working group participants.
For teachers, NIMBioS offers the Teacher Collaboration Program in which teachers with interest in mathematics and biology are paired with active researchers in the math biology community. Collaboration activities range from teaching projects and classroom visits to curriculum design and after school activities.
NIMBioS provides varying levels of tutorial workshops designed to enlighten biologists about key quantitative methods, such as optimal control and optimization or high performance computing methods for analyzing biological problems involving large data sets, spatial information, and dynamics.
NIMBioS’ director is Louis J. Gross, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Mathematics at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. NIMBioS leadership team also includes associate directors and a deputy director. NIMBioS has an external Board of Advisors from academic institutions from around the world. In addition, NIMBioS has a group of senior personnel consisting of UT faculty and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) scientists, as well as a group of additional associated faculty and staff collaborators from UT and ORNL.
NIMBioS collaborates with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to develop methods of particular interest for natural area management that are transferable to numerous U.S. locations. Other partners in NIMBioS include IBM and ESRI.
The need for the Institute arose out of the significant growth of the field of mathematical biology over the last decade with research becoming more closely linked to observation and experiment. Rather than starting from mathematical abstractions, it is now common for researchers to 1) begin with observations; 2) use those to suggest promising methods, tools and models; and 3) proceed to analysis, simulation, evaluation and application. Across the spectrum of the life sciences in which mathematics has been contributing new insights, data are increasingly used to focus conceptual models as the first step in problem formulation.
The NIMBioS website includes descriptions of working groups, investigative workshops, post-doctoral fellowships, sabbaticals, short-term visits, graduate assistantships, and faculty positions and information on how to submit requests for support. The web site also describes education and outreach opportunities for undergraduates, teachers, and K-12 students. The web site also has an extensive video library including interviews with visiting scientists, full-length seminars, and short narrative science features.
From 2010 to 2012, NIMBioS, in conjunction with the UT's James R. Cox Endowment Fund, sponsored a Songwriter-in-Residence Program to encourage the creation and production of songs involving ideas of modern biology and the lives of scientists who pursue research in biology. A total of five songwriters were supported. Each songwriter created and produced a minimum of two songs as a result of his or her four-week residency.
- National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis: www.nimbios.org official website