Middle school girls find math at the heart of biological problems

From June 24-26, Project WISE at Clemson University offered middle school girls the opportunity to shore up their mathematical and engineering skills as they engaged in projects relating to DNA and the genetic code, blood type and probability, and emergent complexity in a program called "Game of Life." The camp was led by Elena Dimitrova and Svetlana Poznanovińá, both mathematicians at Clemson University, and Molly Honecker, a graduate student in mathematical and statistical sciences at Clemson. (Elena Dimitrova has recently relocated to California Polytechnic State University.) Project WISE is a STEM-based summer camp at Clemson University open to middle school students. To learn more about next year's camp in June 2020, visit the Project WISE¬†website here.

On the first day of the camp, the middle schoolers explored how the four DNA "letters" (A, T, G, and C) encode the complexity of life by counting the number of strings of a given length that can be built from the four letters, and they used Hamiltonian paths to reconstruct DNA sequences out of fragments. On the second day, the students learned about the heritability of blood type and how to use Punnett squares to calculate the probability of inheriting a particular type based on parental genotypes. On the last day, the students got a taste of robotics and artificial intelligence by playing "Game of Life," an interactive game in complex outcomes can arise from simple rules and initial circumstances.

Dimitrova is a senior researcher at SCMB. As a mathematician, she uses computational algebra to solve problems in molecular and cell biology. Currently, her SCMB-funded seed project in collaboration with Melissa Kemp of Georgia Tech investigates how stem cells form patterns arising from cell-cell communication.

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    Dimitrova teaches middle school girls math and biology

A NSF-Simons MathBioSys Research Center