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Great Math Challenges in Biology Contest

Historically, biology has inspired new mathematics, from Maxwell to Turing. In turn, breakthroughs in mathematics have generated new insights in biology. The sheer complexity of living beings lends itself to exploration of fields such as topology, complex geometry, dynamical systems, and probability theory. The NSF-Simons Center for Quantitative Biology invites undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows from across Chicagoland to participate in the Great Math Challenges in Biology contest.

Contestants must remotely attend this year’s Annual Center Conference on Quantitative Biology, which is to be held virtually on November 20-21, 2020. This is a national conference, attracting over 200 participants. The conference program includes a series of talks from leading quantitative biologists and physicists from around the world. These include experimentalists and theorists. There is a poster session and lightning talks – opportunities for students and postdocs to present their work.

This challenge asks contestants to take some real-world problem in biology, gleaned from the conference, and propose a specific advance in pure mathematics, new or old, that could be used to help solve the problem.

Awarded proposals will be selected based on their 1) deep theoretical nature, 2) applicability to the problem, 3) significance of the problem, 4) novelty, 5) detail of feasibility.

To aid mathematicians in uncovering questions in biology, a virtual workshop, Introduction to New Mathematics at the Interface of Math and Biology, will be held on Thursday, November 19, 2020 at 2:00pm CDT.  Topics will be presented by center faculty. Registration and further details will be made available at .

First prize is $2,000; second prize is $750; third prize is $250.

Eligible contestants should be enrolled as an undergraduate students, graduate students or employed as postdocs in college/university within 160 miles of Northwestern University and researching in mathematics, applied mathematics, or physics. Single applicants and teams may compete. Contestants must be active students or postdocs at an institution within that range but can be currently remote learning and working.

First, register for the conference and email us your intention to participate in the challenge as a single participant or team participant before November 18, 2020. A winning team will be required to split the award prize equally among members. Email the Center Administrator, Tiffany Leighton Ozmina at . Please write in the subject line: Math Challenges in Biology Contest

Then your proposal submission must be received via email before 12:00PM CDT Monday, December 7, 2020. The submission should be no longer than 2 pages (11 Pt font or larger). Enough details of both the biological problem and the mathematics must be provided for the judges to use the above five criteria for awards selection. Also list the names, status (e.g. student), and academic affiliation of you or your team. The submission must be generated in PDF format. Embedded figures are acceptable.

The awarded submissions will be selected by committee. The judges may include Professors: Antonio Auffinger, Rosemary Braun, Jiping Wang, Luis Amaral, Madhav Mani, Niall Mangan and William Kath.

Registration information for the conference can be found at


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