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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

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Mathematician’s research propelled forward by NSF CAREER award

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Photo by Photo by Meredith Seaver
Anne Shiu Career

Anne Shiu, assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics, has been awarded the prestigious NSF CAREER award.
The National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development Program (NSF CAREER) serves to support pre-tenure faculty members in their research and educational endeavors. This year, Anne Shiu has received the NSF CAREER award to fund her research in systems biology. According to Emil Straub, head of the Department of Mathematics, the award helps faculty members who demonstrate promise.
“The CAREER program is an NSF program designed for young faculty members to give an initial boost to those who are deemed to have great potential,” Straub said.
Shiu studies systems biology, a field which applies mathematics to the modeling of complex biochemical pathways underlying cellular function. She described herself as a mathematical biologist and explained the motivation for her research.
“What I’m interested in is networks of chemical reactions that typically take place in a cell,” Shiu said. “One of the big goals is to understand the dynamics of these systems using mathematics and finding the best prediction tools possible.”
The methods developed by Shiu’s team can be applied to understand the dynamics of multiple biological systems. Shiu said investigating the structure of a small biological system gives a theoretical framework which can be applied to larger systems.
“The things that show up in biology are not random systems,” Shiu said. “They have structure and we can use that to say, ‘if we have this structure, what can we predict and how can we harness it mathematically so we can better understand what you get out at the end of the day?”
Shiu said she dreams that the tools developed by her group can be applied by biologists to improve experimental design by guiding their investigations.
“What I hope is that in the future, biologists will have these tools in their hands so they can say, ‘I have this new network, I can apply these existing results and I know what kind of dynamics I am going to have, I know what kind of experiments I have to do to better understand this system,” Shiu said. “The goal of math is not to overtake biology, but to better inform biologists about what the dynamics can be and what experiments are the most fruitful.”
While progressing the field of biology by harnessing mathematical tools, Straub also highlighted how the field can develop from its application.
“There is some underlying unity in the sciences,” Straub said. “Things that are developed, motivated originally purely inside mathematics, also turn out to be just the tool needed in an application. The inspiration goes both ways. The application leads to new questions and interesting mathematics.”
In addition to research, the NSF CAREER also considers the educational role of a young faculty member. Shiu currently mentors a post-doctoral researcher, three graduate students, and various undergraduates. Furthermore, she is implementing a directed reading program in the math department in order to help undergraduates get self-involved in their education. Shiu said while in other sciences an undergraduate who wants to get involved in research can jump into a project directed by a graduate student, in math this can be complicated by the subject matter requiring more time than most undergraduates can allow. The program works by pairing an undergraduate with a graduate student who helps guide them through research articles and textbook readings that students do not encounter in class. Shiu discussed the potential benefits of the program to both mentor and mentee.
“I hope that the undergraduate gets some of the exciting parts of math earlier and can follow their interests,” Shiu said. “The graduate student learns mentorship. Here they have the opportunity to take a bright student and have them read something at a higher level.”
Angelique Morvant, math department graduate and soon to be new graduate student, said one of the reasons she ultimately decided to go to graduate school was through her honors capstone project with Shiu.
“She was a really good mentor,” Morvant said. “She was friendly, approachable and organized. I really enjoyed math research.”
Shiu said she is enthusiastic for what the award means for the future of her research program.
“It really feels like I’m launched,” said Shiu. “I really feel like now the research I proposed to do is something that people are interested in and are willing to fund and is exciting and now I have the money to get the projects going to support grad students and postdocs. I really see I have the next several years of my program set.”

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