Please note: This is NOT the most current catalog.

Mathematical Biology

Director, 2014-15: Rebecca Vandiver (MSCS) mathematical biology

Faculty, 2014-15: Richard J. Allen (MSCS), bioinformatics, programming languages, intelligent tutoring systems;  Laura Boehm (MSCS), spatial data analysis, Bayesian methods; Lisa Bowers (Biology), microbiology, molecular biology, synthetic biology, genetics; Richard A. Brown (MSCS), parallel and distributed computing systems,interdisciplinary applications of computer science; Kevin Crisp (Biology), neurobiology, animal behavior, human biology;   Kosmas Diveris (Mathematics), commutative algebra; Steven Freedberg (Biology), bioinformatics, evolutionary ecology; Olaf Hall-Holt (MSCS), computer graphics, computational geometry; Kim Kandl (Biology), molecular biology and genetics, cytoskeleton function in yeast; Julie Legler (MSCS), biostatistics, GLM, correlated data; Steven McKelvey, operations research, wildlife modeling; Paul Roback (MSCS), multilevel models, GLM, classification methods; Kathleen Shea (Biology), plant evolutionary ecology, restoration ecology, conservation; Anne Walter (Biology), cell and animal physiology, membrane biophysics, neuroscience; Kyle Whittinghill (biology), biogeochemistry, ecology

overview of the concentration

Advances in the mathematical sciences --mathematics, statistics, and computer science -- have brought new perspectives to biological research. By answering questions that cannot be addressed by other means, the mathematical sciences can provide indispensable tools for biological research. The result is the interdisciplinary field of mathematical biology, which involves developing analytical and computational predictive models of biological systems. The concentration at St. Olaf is intended to train students in mathematical biology, allowing them to understand the development and applications of these models. With the large number of subfields in mathematical biology today, the concentration allows students to pursue a path that best suits their interest (e.g., mathematical modeling or bioinformatics). Students completing the concentration will be equipped with the skills necessary to enter the fast-growing field of mathematical biology or pursue graduate work in the field.


The mathematical biology concentration consists of five courses, an integrative project, and participation in a Math Biology Symposium. A student may petition to count a course other than the pre-approved electives towards his or her concentration if the student can show and the director concurs that the course includes an integrative component related to mathematical and/or computational biology.

  1. Mathematical Biology Core. The core course for the concentration is Math 236: Mathematics of Biology. This course presents the essential modeling techniques of formulation, implementation, validation, and analysis and applies these tools to a wide variety of biological systems and disciplines.
  2. Mathematics/Computer Science/Statistics Electives. Two electives are required in MSCS that focus on modeling, computational, or statistical techniques. Courses that fulfill this requirement include the following:

Computer Science 125: Computer Science for Scientists and Mathematicians or Computer Science 251: Software Design and Implementation
Computer Science 315: Bioinformatics
Mathematics 230: Differential Equations I
Mathematics 242: Modern Computational Mathematics
Mathematics 330: Differential Equations II
Statistics 212: Statistics for the Sciences or Statistics 214: Honors Statistics for Science or Statistics 272: Statistical Modeling
Statistics 302: Biostatistics: Design and Analysis

  1. Biology Electives. Two course electives in biology are required. Courses that fulfill this requirement include the following:

Biology 233: Intermediate Genetics
Biology 247: Animal Physiology
Biology 261: Ecological Principles
Biology 315: Principles of Bioinformatics
Biology 371: Field Ecology
Biology 383: Evolutionary Biology
Biology/Environmental Studies 350: Biogeochemistry: Theory and Application
Neuroscience 239: Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience

  1. Integrative Project. Students are required to work on an independent project that integrates mathematics, computer science, and/or statistics with biology. The project must be approved by the director in order for the student to finish the concentration. The level III biology electives in the concentration all include independent projects that allow a student to work on an integrative project for the concentration. Other experiences that could fulfill this requirement include a research project such as a summer Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU); a project in the expanded Center for Interdisciplinary Research (eCIR); working with faculty to develop a module for a course; an independent research or independent study with a faculty member; or working with a faculty member to develop a computational lab that could be incorporated into an existing course.

  2. Senior Math Biology Symposium. Seniors present their independent project in the form of a poster in a Mathematical Biology Symposium held at St. Olaf in the spring. The symposium is open to the public and provides students the opportunity to explain mathematical and biological concepts to a broad audience. In addition, the symposium is an event that brings together all the students in the concentration, thus strengthening the mathematical biology community here at St. Olaf.