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Small Things Considered: Where Mathematicians & Biologists Meet

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Mathematics and Biology have a long history together. It goes back to early studies on epidemiology (such as John Snow‘s on cholera and the Broad Street pump), and includes Ross’s quantitative studies that show how malaria can be controlled by careful analysis of data. And, of course, there are many others. In the early 20th century, population models with differential equations were developed to describe the dynamics of populations, such as the studies of Alfred Lotka, who felt that natural selection could be quantified by physical laws, and Vito Volterra, who created a model to explain the predator-prey ratios in the Italian fish markets. These early models provide excellent tools because in their simplicity they show biologists how mathematics can help explain noteworthy biological phenomena. Mathematicians enjoy such models because the examples themselves make it easier to explain what the equations are describing.

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