Northwestern University and the University of Chicago have been awarded $50 million from the National Science Foundation and the Simons Foundation to establish the National Institute for Theory and Mathematics in Biology or NITMB, to be based in downtown Chicago. The institute will be the first of its kind in the U.S.
Mathematics has the potential to distill biology’s complexity and predict future phenomena; the center seeks to develop and use math to investigate some of the most important fundamental questions in the life sciences.
Northwestern leads the center, with the University of Chicago as key partner. Together, the two universities will create a nationwide collaborative research community that will generate new mathematical results and uncover the “rules of life” through theories, data-informed mathematical models, and computational and statistical tools. The institute also will foster international collaborations at the interface of the mathematical and biological sciences, helping establish a vibrant worldwide research network for decades to come.
Foundational advances in biology and mathematics will lead to increased knowledge of human intelligence, advances in the biomedical sciences and better understanding of the effects of climate change upon plants and animals, among other benefits. And the institute offers bidirectional opportunities: Discoveries in biology also will motivate new developments in mathematics.
“There are many deep questions about human life and all branches of biology,” said Richard Carthew, the Owen L. Coon Professor of Molecular Biosciences in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and director of the new institute. “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.”