Modeling Biological Complexity In addition to my position as a researcher at Rockefeller, I am Visiting Professor of Biology at Bard College. Every year, Bard invites proposals from post-docs and researchers from Rockefeller to design and teach their 400-level biology seminar. This year, my proposal was chosen. My seminar is titled Modeling Biological Complexity.

The goal of this class is to show students how the same mathematics elucidate diverse biological systems. We cover four broadly applicable methods for analyzing complex systems: scaling analysis, random processes, network theory, and information theory. For each of these topics, I first present the theory, show how it can be applied to a few biological problems (e.g., why bacteria cannot use fins), and illustrate it with a demo (e.g., reversible stokes flow in an annulus). In the following several classes, the students present different papers I selected about how this model is applied to qualitatively different biological problems. For example, in the section on randomness, I present random walks, the normal distribution, and the Poisson distribution. In the following two classes, students present papers on how bacteria use biased random walks to navigate chemical gradients and how random genetic variation within a population drives natural selection. I have also written several problem sets that walk students through the analysis of a biological phenomenon. In the problem set on scaling analysis, the students show that organisms below a critical size can survive a terminal velocity fall and they explore how different organisms exploit this phenomenon.

The course syllabus is available here.