Modeling Living Systems: The Principles of Life

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This course is no longer being offered.

Course Description

Why can some cancer types elude treatments? How come we still haven't found a vaccine for HIV? Why do antibiotics sometimes work and sometimes don't? Adaptation, while providing quite a general answer to these questions, is not at all illustrative. This one simple principle governs many very different phenomena that we encounter in everyday life. The key to understanding how adaptation actually works in all these scenarios is to build intuition through mathematical modeling of living systems.

With the rapid technological advancements of the 21st century, our knowledge of living systems is moving into a new era of quantitative and predictive biology, which heavily relies on mathematical modeling to supply predictions and interpret detailed data arriving from our measurements. This course is designed to introduce the students to this fast-growing interdisciplinary field, where all sciences blend together to answer the most difficult questions of our time.

This course will interweave physical principles with biologically relevant function. For instance, through this course students will learn about pattern formation in the brain, understand the role of biased random walk in bacterial chemotaxis, develop intuition how bacteria use chance to survive under antibiotic treatment, we will learn how yeasts implement bet-hedging strategies to survive in stressful conditions and how does the game theory, specifically the idea of Nash equilibrium, find its place in theories of evolution. There are many more examples of this type -- and through these examples students will learn various mathematical and physical principles and show how they apply to really amazing things found in everyday life. This will be a very interdisciplinary course, building everything from scratch, while bridging physics, applied math and biology.

Prerequisites: There are no prerequisites for this course, although one year of algebra and general physics is highly encouraged.


Course Information

  • Course Code: CEBI0974
  • Length: 1 week

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences, offering over 200 non-credit courses, one- to four-weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For students completing grades 9-12 by June 2019.

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