DySoC Welcomes Renowned Primatologist Frans de Waal

Dr. Frans de Waal

The Center for the Dynamics of Social Complexity (DySoC) at NIMBioS is pleased to host world-renowned primatologist Frans de Waal for a talk next month on animal emotion and empathy ahead of his much-anticipated new book, to be published in March.

Drawing upon his decades of research on empathy and the perception of emotion in primates, de Waal’s talk will make the point that the study of animal emotion is a necessary complement to the study of behavior.

The talk, “Animal Emotions and Empathy,” will be held at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 14. Full details at http://www.dysoc.org/seminars

A leading voice in uncovering the emotional world of primates and parallels in humans, de Waal is credited with the discovery of conflict resolution among primates. His work has inspired the field of primate cognition as it relates to cooperation, altruism, and fairness.

An engaging science writer and one of the world’s most visible primatologists, de Waal is the author of 13 books, which have been translated into 20 languages. He is widely known for such books as “Chimpanzee Politics,” “Peacemaking Among Primates,” “The Age of Empathy,” “The Bonobo and the Atheist,” and New York Times bestseller, “Are We Smart Enough To Know How Smart Animals Are?”.

Of de Waal’s most recent book, “Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves” (Norton, March 2019), New York Times best-selling author Yuval Noah Harari writes: “A captivating and big-hearted book full of compassion and brimming with insights about the lives of animals, including human ones.”

The book will be available for sale at the talk, and de Waal will sign books following his talk.

De Waal is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Primate Behavior at Emory University where he directs the university’s Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, one of the world’s foremost centers for research on primate behavior.

Involved in NIMBioS activities since the start, de Waal participated in the first Working Group, on Coalitions and Alliances, which met in 2009 and 2010. During his visit in February, he will participate as a co-organizer of the DySoC/NIMBioS Investigative Workshop on Human Origins 2021.

De Waal is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was named one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people and listed by Discover Magazine among its all-time “Great Minds of Science.” He has received a Los Angeles Times Book Award (for his 1989 work, Peacemaking among Primates), the American Psychological Foundation’s Arthur W. Staats Award, and the Edward O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation’s Technology Pioneer Award.

Recognized by the American Society of Primatologists as a “Distinguished Primatologist,” de Waal is the editor-in-chief of the scientific journal Behaviour.

De Waal completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Nijmegen, began graduate studies at the University of Groningen, and received a Ph.D. in biology from Utrecht University, where he is a distinguished university professor.

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Special Issue Dedicated to Lenhart

The November issue of Natural Resource Modeling is dedicated to Suzanne Lenhart, NIMBioS Associate Director for Education and Outreach and a Chancellor’s Professor in Mathematics at UT.

Three former students of Lenhart’s—Rachel Leander, Wandi Ding and René Salinas—guest edited the special issue. Lenhart chaired Leander’s and Ding’s dissertation committees, while Lenhart served on Salinas’ dissertation committee and co-wrote six papers with him. Leander is an assistant professor of mathematics at Middle Tennessee State University and Ding is a professor of mathematics there. Salinas is an associate professor of mathematics at Appalachian State University.

They write: “Suzanne Lenhart’s dedication to making mathematics diverse, inclusive, and accessible sets her apart from other great mathematicians.”

While students at UT, despite her busy schedule, Lenhart was always available. “She had a reputation for being a professor you could go to for help,” they write.

In addition to commending Lenhart’s research accomplishments in the mathematical sciences, the authors note her dedication to helping advance underrepresented students in the STEM fields and to making mathematics accessible to younger students and researchers.

“By making mathematics accessible to a larger and more
diverse group of people, Suzanne contributes immeasurably to the advancement of science,” they write.

Congratulations, Dr. Lenhart!

You can read the full dedication at https://doi.org/10.1111/nrm.121988

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Southern African Mathematics Teachers Train at the Interface

Lenhart leads a mathematical biology activity at the SAMSA Teachers’ Workshop in Botswana.

Teachers from Southern African countries received specialized training in mathematical biology last week from NIMBioS Associate Director for Outreach and Education Suzanne Lenhart at the Southern Africa Mathematical Sciences Association (SAMSA) Annual Conference in Palapye, Botswana.

Lenhart taught lessons on using probability to measure biodiversity to about 60 high school teachers as a part of the conference’s Pre-University Mathematics Teachers’ Workshop. Materials from the measuring biodiversity lesson were published in article by co-author Lenhart in Mathematics Teacher in 2014 and are available on the NIMBioS website.

“The teachers actively participated in the activities and seemed positive about working on them,” Lenhart said.

Lenhart also gave a research talk on La Crosse virus modeling, participated in a SAMSA-Masaum research collaboration, and led a discussion at the two -day African Women in Mathematics Workshop as a part of the conference, which was held at Botswana International University of Science and Technology.

The SAMSA-Masamu program, based at Auburn University, serves to promote U.S.-Africa collaboration in mathematics research.

This is the second year that Lenhart has trained teachers as a part of the conference. Last year’s SAMSA Teachers’ Workshop, which was held in Tanzania, was organized by Lenhart.

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STEM Group Broadens Participation for Students with Disabilities

Improving the success of students with disabilities in the STEM disciplines has been the goal of the UT-NIMBioS STEM Alliance. The group has been busy this fall with scholarships for its members, local local high school outreach, and professional development activities.

Seven UT students received scholarships to support their academic studies at UT.

Building on a successful visit to Knoxville’s L&N STEM Academy in the spring, students from the STEM Alliance paid another visit this fall. The informal Meet & Greet for high school students with disabilities was similar to one held in the spring when about 20 high schoolers attended with positive feedback from all involved. The UT students shared tips and resources based on their own experiences as students with disabilities in STEM majors on the UT campus.

The STEM Alliance typically meets bi-weekly throughout the semester. The group hosts discussions on professional development topics, such as careers, resume writing, mentorship, graduate schools and internships. Other informal gatherings throughout the semester provide a place for support and to share ideas and experiences.

This fall the group viewed a Peabody-award winning documentary on autism and inclusion called DEEJ about an American autistic activist and high school student David James Savarese. Savarese is nonspeaking and uses alternative and augmentative communication methods in his daily life as a student preparing for transition to higher education.

Other topics this fall included a session on art and disabilities with UT art professor Timothy Hiles and a session on handling stress with Billie Amatus-Salaam from UT Center for Health Education and Wellness.

For more information about the UT-NIMBioS STEM Alliance, visit its website.

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Templeton Foundation Funds Project to Advance Study of Cultural Evolution

KNOXVILLE—What is the relationship between genes, culture and the individuals that comprise the great collective structures of human society? While our genes have evolved so too has our culture, and yet science has not quite kept up with understanding the dynamic processes at play in cultural evolution.

A new effort from the Center for the Dynamics of Society Complexity (DySoC) at the University of Tennessee to bring tools from the natural sciences to the social sciences to better understand cultural evolution has been awarded funding from the John Templeton Foundation.

The project, led by DySoC Director Sergey Gavrilets, will apply dynamical systems theory commonly used in physics and mathematics to the social sciences and will train researchers who study culture and society to use the theory’s tools. The project is a joint effort with Peter J. Richerson who is the President of a newly formed Cultural Evolution Society.

Dynamical systems is often used to study complex processes in the natural sciences, for example, to understand changes in the climate system or the motion of planets or the way diseases spread in a population. Increasingly, it is being applied to the study of social systems. The availability of larger and more complex data sets describing short and long term changes in human society make dynamic modeling particularly useful for testing various theories and making predictions.

The new project involves organizing and developing web-based educational materials for graduate students and postdoctoral researchers and creating a new textbook on applying methods of dynamical systems theory to the evolution of institutions, a topic which brings together many basic and applied issues in cultural evolution. The project will also support some of the activities planned by the Cultural Evolution Society.

“A myriad of important challenges face society and the human species right now. We hope this new effort will lay the groundwork for a social scientific paradigm shift that could ultimate provide new scientifically-informed, robust policy tools by which we might humanely direct our own evolution,” Gavrilets said.

The project’s educational website components will be developed by the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) where DySoC is housed.

Established in 1987, the John Templeton Foundation serves as a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to what scientists and philosophers call the “big questions” of human purpose and reality. It supports work at the world’s top universities in fields such as theoretical physics, cosmology, evolutionary biology, cognitive science and social science.

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New Quantitative Skills Curriculum Wins Funding

A unique program developed by NIMBioS to bring quantitative education to graduate students in the life sciences has been awarded funding from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund (BWF), one of only three BWF awards to be made nationally.

“Enhancing Quantitative and Data Science Education for Graduate Students in Biomedical Science at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville” prioritizes current research topics suggested by biology faculty as a focal point for teaching PhD students in biomedical science.

Faculty from life sciences departments at UT—including the Departments of Biochemistry & Cellular and Molecular Biology, Microbiology, and the UT-Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Graduate School in Genome Science & Technology—will identify the key quantitative concepts and methods to be studied. Mathematics faculty whose research focuses on applying mathematics and statistics to biological applications will also lend their expertise. NIMBioS will coordinate the effort. (Read the full news release).

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Modeling with Math for Teachers

Associate Director for Education & Outreach Suzanne Lenhart illustrates the concepts in the “Modeling with Math” teacher workshop. Sixteen teachers from Knoxville area high schools attended.

A new resource for teachers, “Modeling with Mathematics,” with examples and exercises to illustrate modeling concepts using mathematics from Algebra I and II is now available on the NIMBioS website.

Simple models with discrete time steps are included, as well as functions with continuous variables, such as time or number of dollars. Open-ended scenarios to practice creating models are also available.

Additionally, two presentations demonstrate the construction of functions to fit data and the use of probability in biology models. An Excel file is provided to iterate and to illustrate discrete models with sequences.

The teacher workshop for which these materials were developed was conducted in cooperation with Lynn Hodge, associate professor of mathematics education at the UT-Knoxville, and was partially supported by the East TN STEM Hub and the Center for Enhancement Education in Mathematics and Sciences.

The unit is another addition to NIMBioS’ growing list of educational resources, which includes nine educational modules, geared to different grade levels, from K-12. The modules cover a variety of topics, from measuring biodiversity to modeling predator-prey relationships in soil and more.

For more information about NIMBioS Education & Outreach offerings, contact Associate Director of Education & Outreach Suzanne Lenhart (slenhart@tennessee.edu) or Education & Outreach Coordinator Greg Wiggins (wiggybug@nimbios.org).

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NIMBioS Extracurriculars & the Mathematics of Dance

“It may be possible to do without dancing entirely. Instances have been known of young people passing many, many months successively, without being at any ball of any description, and no material injury accrue either to body or mind;–but when a beginning is made– when the felicities of rapid motion have once been, though slightly, felt–it must be a very heavy set that does not ask for more.” — Jane Austen in “Emma”

No, this is the not the first interdisciplinary workshop on the mathematics of English country dance, but perhaps it could be.

A man of many talents, NIMBioS Director Louis Gross donned his Elizabethan attire last week to join other local English country dancers in teaching a few steps to students in a 200-level English class at UT that includes the works of Jane Austen. The dancing was very popular at the turn of the 19th century during Austen’s time and featured in her novels, not to mention a good number of modern Austen movie adaptations.

Gross has danced with the local group, Lark in the Moon, for about 15 years. Weekly dances to live music are held every Sunday at the Laurel Theater. Newcomers are always welcome.

“It’s a wonderful group of folks, good exercise, and has participants from elementary school to retired folks,” Gross said.

With their weaving and whirling, the dances reveal a formal mathematical structure akin to abstract algebra, Gross observed, making his visit to the classroom yet another NIMBioS contribution to foster interdisciplinary connections across campus.

Who ever said that college English class is not interesting?!

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New in Science: Working Group Takes on Transient Dynamics

Long Transients Working Group Meeting 2 from October 2017: Ying-Cheng Lai, Alan Hastings, Andrew Morozov, Karen Abbott, Sergei Petrovskii, Katherine Scranton, Tessa Francis, Mary Lou Zeeman, Kim Cuddington, Gabriel Gellner

A review paper published this week in Science by the NIMBioS Working Group on Long Transients and Ecological Forecasting is generating buzz on social media.

The paper proposes a classification system for ecological dynamics that persist over ecologically relevant time scales—dozens of generations or longer. These “long transient dynamics” are applicable to many questions in ecology, such as how to explain species distributions or population changes over broad timescales. Previous research has treated transient phenomena separately, which the authors write, makes instances of transient dynamics appear “novel and idiosyncratic.” In this review, the authors turn to dynamical systems theory to develop a classification scheme that categorizes the mechanisms underlying transients. The study also links empirical observations to simple prototypical models. The systematic framework described in the review could be useful for ecosystem management.

The Working Group has met twice at NIMBioS since 2017 and is scheduled to meet for a third time later this month. It is co-organized by Alan Hastings (Environmental Science and Policy, Univ. of California, Davis); Kim Cuddington (Biology, Univ. of Waterloo, Canada); Andrew Morozov (Mathematics, Univ. of Leicester, UK); and Sergei Petrovskii (Mathematics, Univ. of Leicester, UK).

Citation: Hastings A et al. 07 Sep 2018. Transient phenomena in ecology. Science. Science 361:6406, DOI: 10.1126/science.aat6412

 

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Happy Birthday to a Great Mentor

(L to R): NIMBioS visitor and seminar speaker Shandelle Henson, UT Math Graduate Coordinator Pam Armentrout, Suzanne Lenhart, and Tom Hallam

Birthday celebration for Tom Hallam (center) in Hallam Auditorium

Professor Emeritus and NIMBioS progenitor Thomas Guy Hallam was feted yesterday in the very room of his namesake Hallam Auditorium before the seminar talk of one of his many former advisees.

Friends, colleagues and former students joined NIMBioS visitor and seminar speaker Shandelle Henson, a math and biology professor at Andrews University in Michigan, to celebrate Hallam’s birthday in a pre-talk reception.

Many of Hallam’s former students have now gone on to have successful research careers at institutions around the country, and quite a few have been involved in NIMBioS, like board member Linda J. S. Allen, a professor of mathematics and statistics at Texas Tech University.

“Tom was really the progenitor of NIMBioS,” explained NIMBioS Director Louis J. Gross.

Hallam joined UT in 1977 as a joint professor in mathematics and ecology. During the next several decades, Hallam’s research group integrated ecotoxicology and population dynamics into a watershed quality assessment tool for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. His research in using mathematical models to solve problems in ecotoxicology and ecology inspired him to begin an interdisciplinary program at the university that combines mathematics and biology, the progenitor to NIMBioS.

Happy Birthday Dr. Hallam!

 

 

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