Sweet Briar presents weekly Faculty Research Seminar Series over lunch

Raina Robeva teaches a math class at Sweet Briar.

The new year begins at Sweet Briar with a new opportunity for faculty to share and discuss their research. Raina Robeva, professor of mathematics, will open the weekly Faculty Research Seminar Series at noon on Thursday, Jan. 25, in Josey Dining Room in Prothro Hall. The event is free and open to the public. Regular lunch rates apply for those wishing to try out the College’s new menu.

The topic of Robeva’s talk is “How to be Discrete About Mathematical Biology.”

“Linus Pauling once said ‘Life is a relationship among molecules and not a property of any molecule,’” Robeva writes in her abstract. “Similarly, many systems of interacting components exhibit emergent behaviors due to the specific interactions of their parts. Why do birds form flock formations? How and why do lightning bugs synchronize their flashes?  How do disruptions in the complex network of pathways involving gene regulation, signaling, and cell metabolism lead to multiple mutations and to malignancy? How can we control the process?

“Since the networks in question are typically complex,” Robeva explains, “containing multiple feedback loops and connected pathways, it is necessary to express their features as computational models that not only approximate the systems’ dynamics but also lend themselves to rigorous mathematical analyses.”

Historically, dynamical systems have been modeled with differential equations, but this approach has multiple limitations in the context of large systems — in general, its value quickly diminishes as the size of the system grows.

Raina Robeva
Raina Robeva

“In the era of big data, Boolean and polynomial models of biological systems have emerged as viable, and often superior, alternatives,” Robeva writes.

Using examples from literature on the topic and results from her own work, Robeva will highlight and explain the value of discrete and algebraic models in mathematical biology.

Robeva earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Sofia in Bulgaria and her Ph.D. in mathematics at the University of Virginia. She is the lead author or editor of several books, including “Algebraic and Discrete Mathematical Methods for Modern Biology” (2015). She is the founding chief editor of the journal Frontiers in Systems Biology, past chair of the advisory board of the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis, and chair of the Chapter in Mathematical and Computational Biological Science of the Mathematical Association of America (BIO SIGMAA). Her research interests span a wide range of topics including systems biology, random processes and fields, and mathematical modeling for biology and the biomedical sciences.

Robeva has received funding for her research and educational projects from multiple public and private sources, including the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, and has mentored numerous student research projects. Her translational research has resulted in three U.S. patents for assessment and diagnosis of attentional impairments. Robeva is a 2014 recipient of the Outstanding Faculty Award of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia — the Commonwealth’s highest honor for faculty at Virginia’s public and private colleges and universities.

The Faculty Research Seminar Series continues with weekly presentations over lunch, featuring such topics as “Slavery before the Triangle Trade,” “Deer Effects on Forest Plant Communities” and “Millennial Consumer Behavior,” among many others.

A tentative schedule includes Joshua Harris (music) on Feb. 1, Lynn Laufenberg (history) on Feb. 8, Scott Hyman (physics) on Feb. 15, Kaelyn Laeke (engineering) on Feb. 22, Dean Rob Granger (chemistry) on March 1, Meredith McCool (education) on March 15, Autumn Sabo (environmental science) on March 22, Mark Magruder (dance) on March 29, Tim Schauer (business) on April 5, Jessica Salvatore (psychology) on April 12, Michael Davis (biology) on April 19, and honors students Claire Zak and Baylee Worth on April 26.

For more information, please email Sabo at asabo@sbc.edu. To learn more about Sweet Briar’s dining services — and its new partnership with Lynchburg-based company Meriwether Godsey — visit sbc.edu/dining-services.