current state of the art

Marc Roussel mroussel at
Mon Nov 4 16:28:36 EST 1991

In article <kgstbfINNpbv at> dean2 at
(Dean Pentcheff) writes:
>In article <DAVIS.91Oct22132657 at>
>davis at ("John E. Davis") writes:
>>However, I do have a PhD in theoretical physics.  I am curious about what work
>>has been done using, say hydrodynamics, in modeling various biological
>>functions or structures.
>There has been a fair bit of work done, in a wide variety of biological
>fields.  [...]
>Why not more?  Biologists tend
>not to be mathematically astute (gross generalization, but...)

     I would really like to hear more from biologists on this subject.
Does it bother you that a lot of interesting biological work is being
done by non-biologists because so few of you know any non-trivial math?
I am asking this question out of curiosity.  It is not intended as a
criticism of biologists or of biology.  I have just noticed that more
and more physicists and mathematicians are attacking biological problems
while very few biologists are trained in such a way that they are even
able to understand some of the more recent advances.  Since I have
nibbled at the edges of theoretical biology myself, I know that the
incursion of other scientists in the biological sciences is not without
its problems:  Lacking a general background in your subject, I find it
difficult to focus on truly biologically interesting problems; I often
get diverted by mathematically interesting (but, I think, biologically
meaningless) studies.  Can amateurs like me make a real contribution to
biology?  I think so, but I think that mathematically-trained biologists
could do a great deal more.  I look forward to your comments.

>Two delightful references to check are (sorry, I don't have publishers
>info handy, but these should be in any academic library):
>Vogel, Steven.  Life's devices.  An introduction to biomechanics (including
>  fluids) topics.  Intended for non-biologists, and even (gasp) non-scientists.
>Vogel, Steven.  Life in moving fluids.  Introduction to biofluiddynamics
>  primarily for biologists.  Fluid physicists will find the fluid dynamics
>  pretty trivial, but it will give an idea of how it applies to biology.

     I also strongly recommend that anyone interested in mathematical
biology look at Murray's book entitled (I think) "Mathematical Biology".
It's quite full of interesting ideas, most of them well worked out, but
many merely mentioned as open problems.  I can't say that I have used
much of the stuff in Murray's book, but it has proven a rewarding read.

				Marc R. Roussel
                                mroussel at
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