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  • Mathematical modeling for the real world

    Tuesday, January 10, 2017
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    The very idea of studying mathematics fills many of us with anxiety. Olga Vasilyeva wants to help defeat the phobia of mathematics and attract students to studying and applying it's theories in the real world. 

     

    "My goal is to create a bridge between math and real life. It can be used in life science, medicine, and population dynamics. I find that students are very interested in applying mathematics to real life," she said. "It's very accessible. Some students don't know calculus, but you can start with a very basic understanding of math." Vasilyeva works to create a classroom environment where students feel comfortable and free to ask questions.

     

    Her interest in applied mathematics was piqued during her undergraduate degree when a professor explained that weather could be studied using differential equations. She hopes to spark the same interest in her students at Grenfell Campus. "My personal research is important to me, but my research with my students is even more important."

     

    Vasilyeva's research work looks at spatial ecology and disease dynamics modeling. Specifically, she is applying mathematics to the behaviors of insect populations in rivers and streams. One of the central themes of her research has been the study of the drift paradox, a phenomenon in which many aquatic organisms in rivers and streams avoid being swept downstream and adapt to their original habitats where their chances of staying alive and reproducing are greater. "Basically, I study mathematical models that predict the density of a population within the habitat," she said. "My model tells me that a population can survive under certain conditions and will die out in others."

     

    Rivers and streams are fragile ecosystems and human activities such as water extraction, population growth and intentional flooding can have a profound effect on the flow of water. Vasilyeva's mathematical models can be used to help predict the effects of changes to aquatic ecosystems on the habitats of insect species and the probability of their survival as change occurs.

     

    In the classroom, her students have applied her modeling theories to other topics and their projects are as varied as their imaginations. Some of the questions they've considered include models to predict outcomes of spruce budworm infestations, the health risks of taking cold medication, and predicting the spread of zombie populations.

     

    FUNDERS

    Grenfell Campus Start-up Grant

     

    COLLABORATORS

    Frithjof Lutscher – University of Ottawa

    Mark Lewis – University of Alberta

    Tamer Oraby – University of Texas - Rio Grande Valley

     

     

    ABOUT FOR THE RECORD:

    Throughout the semester we will highlight some of the interesting research taking place at Grenfell Campus. The articles will appear here and will be compiled on the research webpage.

     

    Article prepared by Alli Johnston

     

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