22/02/2021 02:36

Program Equips Future Scientists to Build Bridges Between Life sciences and Mathematics

  • Institutional

Training program launched by Instituto Serrapilheira and ICTP-SAIFR aims to prepare researchers to tackle today’s challenges in ecology and biology

Instituto Serrapilheira, in a joint venture with the South American Institute for Fundamental Research, is launching a new training program aimed at developing the skills of future scientists in transdisciplinary research in the life sciences: the Training Program in Quantitative Biology and Ecology. The application window for this new initiative opens on March 9, 2021. 

The program will provide free training in life sciences with a focus on applying mathematics, physics and computer science therein. Participants will learn about quantitative methods to solve pressing questions in biology and ecology. The goal of the program is to harness the potential of Brazil—the country with the greatest biodiversity on the planet—to create, in the long-term, a generation of highly skilled young scientists to deal with the country’s challenges. 

The program couldn’t be more timely as we face, according to the United Nations, the potential loss of about one million species in the coming decades. Since countries have not met most of the 2011-2020 global goals for biodiversity, the UN declared 2021-2030 as the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.

The wide-ranging topics will cover everything from modern genetics to behavioral ecology, bringing together a unique group of professors who are global leaders in their fields of research. The list includes names like neuroscientist Oded Rechavi from Tel Aviv University (Israel), one of the greatest specialists in epigenetic inheritance, which studies how characteristics that are not in the DNA can be transferred from one generation to the next. 

Also on the roster is mathematician Corina Tarnita (Princeton University, USA), who develops mathematical frameworks to investigate how simple biological units interact with each other to create larger-scales structures. One example is the interaction between several single cells to develop a multicellular organism. In addition to attending classes, students will have the opportunity to directly interact with scientists who work at the frontiers of new knowledge. See the full list of professors and topics here

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the first edition of this program will take place entirely online in an abridged version from July 5 to July 30, 2021. In the years to come, the program is expected to take place in person in São Paulo and will last six months and includes a stage for developing a research proposal. The idea is for students to continue their training either in Brazil or abroad after completing the program. 

Candidates must have graduated or expect to do so by December 31, 2021 from an undergraduate program in any field at an institution in Brazil or Latin America. Students must have prior knowledge of differential and integral calculus and be proficient in English language. There will be up to 50 accepted participants and the first 500 applicants will be given preference in the selection process, therefore it is important to prepare the application in advance. 

This is Serrapilheira’s first initiative focused on researchers at the pre-doctoral stage of their careers. “Modern studies in life sciences can produce an enormous amount of complex data, research on which becomes difficult due to the way that disciplines are split,” the Institute’s executive director, Hugo Aguilaniu explained. “We want to break down these artificial and limiting barriers so that a young biologist knows how to use an equation like a mathematician or think like a physicist to understand complex biological systems such as a tropical ecosystem.”

The ICTP-SAIFR is an international center headquartered at the Theoretical Physics Institute at UNESP (São Paulo State University), which organizes schools and workshops on topics related to physics for graduate students and researchers. “The boom in new data from biology has led many physicists to migrate to this field to apply the tools they learned by studying complex systems,” said the director of ICTP=SAIFR, Nathan Berkovits. 

The application deadline is May 3, 2021. More information about the program, the announcement and the link to the application form are all available here.

Kick-off webinars with Simon Levin and Akiko Iwasaki

As part of the announcement, Serrapilheira and ICTP-SAIFR will hold two webinars with members of the Advisory Committee for the Training Program in Quantitative Biology and Ecology. On March 2, 2021, ecologist and Princeton University professor Simon Levin will address the importance of basic science based on his nearly 60 years of interdisciplinary research. Simon Levin is the recipient of the US National Medal of Science and the Kyoto Prize and one of the most prominent ecologists in the world.

On March 4, Yale University professor Akiko Iwasaki, a leading researcher at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) in the United States, will talk about the role of basic science in tackling concrete challenges, such as COVID-19. One of the most influential immunologists in the world, Iwasaki made significant contributions to understanding the immunological responses to viruses, including Sars-CoV-2. She is also an activist for women’s presence in the sciences. 

  • Topics
  • Akiko Iwasaki
  • Biology
  • ICTP
  • Oded Rechavi
  • Simon Levin
  • Training Program in Quantitative Biology and Ecology