Major Spotlight: Math Comp Bio

In high school, Jasmin Rizko ’18 knew she would major in something bio-related. At Mudd, she found her calling: Mathematical Computational Biology.

The Math Comp Bio major is a popular joint major among students that are interested in applying interdisciplinary quantitative, computational methods to fields like genomics, molecular modeling, neurobiology, and more. A combination of courses from all three departments with plenty of room to take major related electives and to take classes off-campus, the Math Comp Bio major allows students to focus on fields such as physiology and modeling or computational neuroscience.

Now a junior, Jasmin is particularly interested in using math and computer science as tools in the bioinformatics and biostatistics domain. As a Math Comp Bio major, she’s able to pursue math, computer science and biology, all of which she loves, while continually looking into new projects and applications to what she learns. She notes that this is feasible because of the interdisciplinary nature of her major. So far, her favorite classes have been Math 55 Discrete Mathematics and Bio 188 Advanced Comp Bio.

As several Mudd students choose to do, Jasmin has done on-campus research for the past two summers. Her first summer involved HIV research with Professor Karl Haushalter: “I did wet lab research in Prof Haushalter’s lab on a possible gene therapy method to treat HIV. My role in the lab was to create new plasmid constructs and test their viability as agents against the virus. This was all wet lab research, pipettes, centrifuges, PCR, all that jazz.”

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Just because the major is computationally focused doesn’t mean that students don’t get exposure to more traditional biology lessons: “A stage that we set up to do frog cardiac dissections on. There’s a microscope, two lights, a force transducer, and an exposed wire to run current through the muscle.”

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“An osmometer, which measures the concentration of solutes in solutions and mixtures. We used it in our plant lab to determine the amount of solutes in the leaves of different plants”

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“Two mice that we used in our metabolic rate class.”

Research last summer, however, was in physics, in line with Jasmin’s enthusiasm for interdisciplinary research and work. She really enjoyed looking into more complex electromagnetic theory, after becoming more comfortable with what the core class Phys 51 Electromagnetic Theory and Optics taught her. As a research student in Prof. Jim Eckert’s lab, Jasmin has attended a conference in October 2016 in New Orleans; she will be co-authoring a paper, and possibly attending another conference in Dublin next April.

She cites both her lab experiences as helpful in deciding that she wants to go to grad school for biostatistics or bio-informatics, and a “research career that hopefully culminates in working in academia.” At Mudd, she’s found that she loves teaching people and the dynamic environment that school offers. Professors “interact with people on a level that is professional but can also be super friendly and collaborative,” an experience she’s had and loves at Mudd.

The Math Comp Bio major’s flexibility and non-traditional, computational approach is a great option for students who want to use math and computer science to solve today’s biology problems!

Learn about the Computer Science Math joint major in my last major spotlight post