Northwestern and University of Chicago Create First Institute for Mathematics and Biology

The National Science Foundation-sponsored institute will explore topics like the effects of climate change on plants and animals, biomedical science through math models, and computational and statistical tools.
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Published on September 21, 2023
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  • The National Science Foundation is awarding the universities $50 million over five years for the institute.
  • The institute will provide nationwide and worldwide collaborations for the intersection of math and biology.
  • The institute will provide research opportunities for students from elementary school to the graduate level.

Northwestern University and the University of Chicago (UChicago) are teaming up to create the first national institute to explore mathematics and biology.

Northwestern announced a $50 million award over five years from the National Science Foundation (NSF) on Sept. 14 for the National Institute for Theory and Mathematics in Biology (NITMB) in downtown Chicago.

The two universities will establish a network to explore the "rules of life" through theories, data-informed mathematical models, and computational and statistical tools. The institute will have an open-space floor plan in the Streeterville neighborhood for easy university access.

The institute will also create curricula and research opportunities for elementary to graduate school students and host public lectures. The institute will utilize local K-12 outreach educational programs and develop new ones for underrepresented populations in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

"There are many deep questions about human life and all branches of biology," Richard Carthew, Northwestern professor and institute director, said in the press release.

"Our goal is to better understand the mathematical basis underlying both the capabilities and constraints of living systems. We hope to revolutionize the study of biology, much like physics has benefited from an alliance with mathematics. An ambitious goal, yes, and an exciting one."

The institute will investigate:

  • The effects of climate change on plants and animals
  • Biomedical science advances
  • When groups of organisms exhibit collective behavior not seen in individuals
  • How living systems learn and adapt to new conditions with limited training

Each university is allocating 40 faculty members — from experimental and theoretical quantitative biology, computer science, physics, and mathematics fields of study — to the institute.

The institute shows the transformative potential of collaboration between leading universities, Milan Mrksich, Northwestern's vice president for research, said in the press release.

"By creating these 'dream teams' across institutions, we can dramatically increase our scientific understanding while strengthening our region as a destination for the world's best research talent," Mrksich said.