College of Arts and Sciences

Department of Mathematics

Thirty-Third Annual T.G. Ostrom Lecture

Dr. James P. Keener

"The Mathematics of Life: Decisions, Decisions"

Wednesday, April 16, 2014 at 7:00pm in Todd 216

Please join us for an informative discussion by this year's invited guest lecturer James P. Keener, Distinguished Professor of Mathematics from the University of Utah.


As we learn more and more about biological processes, the need for mathematical methods to aid us in understanding these extremely complex processes becomes even greater. The use of mathematics to describe biological processes has a long and impressive history with many famous names including Euler, Lotka, Volterra, Malthus, Fisher, Hodgkin, Huxley, and Turing. The common feature of the work of all of these scientists is that they used differential equations and the ideas of calculus to count things, and this way of counting has significant benefits.

A fundamental problem that all living organisms must solve is how to take measurements and make decisions on the basis of those measurements. The classic works of Hodgkin and Huxley and Turing showed us that important biological processes such as signaling in nerves (HH) and morphogenetic pattern formation (Turing) can be understood via the mathematics of diffusion and reaction. However, the mechanism by which measurements and decisions based on those measurements are made is still poorly understood, although there are some underlying principles that are coming to light. What we are learning is that the rate of molecular diffusion contains quantifiable information that can be transduced through biochemical reactions to give control over physical measurements and decisions. Equally important, however, is that these processes can be described and studied using differential equations.

In this talk, I will illustrate the use of mathematical models to examine two fascinating examples: quorum sensing (population measurement) by bacteria and length measurement of flagella by bacteria. In this way, I hope to show how organisms can use the properties of molecular diffusion coupled with appropriate chemical reactions to make decisions that enable them to survive.

A reception with refreshments will immediately follow in the Hacker Lounge (Neill Hall 216).

About the T.G. Ostrom Lecture

The annual T. G. Ostrom Lecture brings internationally renowned mathematics scholars to the WSU campus each spring. The lecture honors the late Professor Emeritus Theodore G. Ostrom, who retired from WSU in 1981 after 21 years as a WSU Mathematics Department faculty member.

Ostrom Events

Post Colloquium

April 17th, 4:10pm
Neill 5W

We invite you to join us the following day, Thursday, April 17th at 4:10pm in Neill 5W, when Dr. Keener will speak at a more technical post Ostrom colloquium. Please join a reception for Dr. Keener just prior to this at 3:30pm in Neill 216. Refreshments will be served.

Click here for a pdf flier.

We look forward to seeing you!

Department of Mathematics, PO Box 643113, Neill 103, Washington State University, Pullman WA 99164-3113 Phone: 509-335-3926 Fax: 509-335-1188 Contact Us