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Where Math and Biology Meet

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  • Christina Weaver, assistant professor of mathematics

     

A Ph.D. in applied mathematics may not seem as if it would lead to a job in a medical school, but that’s exactly where Assistant Professor of Mathematics Christina Weaver found herself for the last six years.

As a postdoctoral fellow and instructor of biomathematics at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, Weaver worked on a project modeling brain cells from microscope images.

“My research involves trying to figure out how the shapes of brain cells affect the way that they talk to each other,” she says. “That’s important because during aging and with diseases such as Alzheimer’s, the shapes of the neurons change; so does their function. If I can understand how shape affects function, then maybe I could say whether it’s possible to even design a drug that could counteract that effect.”

Because neurons “talk” to each other with electricity, it is possible to write equations that describe how the electricity flows. Weaver has been doing unconventional things with math since she was an undergraduate at Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland. “I knew that I loved math, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with it. Faculty members there were doing a project at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge where they were building mathematical models of the animal population. I was involved in that project, and I got the idea that math can be used to do really interesting things—especially in biology.”

At F&M, Weaver will teach calculus and statistics, but she also will be involved with the formation of the College’s emerging bioinformatics program. “Moving forward, I want to be designing a course in mathematical biology that would be appropriate if you are a biology major or a math major.”

She says she is looking forward to the challenges of the classroom. “It will be nice to work with undergraduates again. I really love teaching. I also really do enjoy the research. I appreciate the balance of research with teaching here because I believe that students can get a lot out of opportunities to do research.”

Weaver hopes to inspire her students with a love of math and its application. “A lot of people in math class will say, 'Well, what can I really do with this?’ I like to say, 'Look! This is the kind of thing you can do with this.’”

Weaver also is thrilled to be in the Lancaster area. “I think it is really fantastic,” she says. “I love it. I grew up not far from here, so it’s nice to be back close to family. But I also lived in Queens, N.Y., so I’m used to being in a city where you have access to everything. What I love is that I still have a bit of city life, but there are also the farms. It’s a really nice balance of everything.”

After spending several years living in a tiny apartment in Queens, she and her husband, Anthony, are enjoying their more spacious home in downtown Lancaster. The couple took advantage of F&M’s City Life Program to purchase a house just a few blocks from campus on Walnut Street.

While Weaver is reacquainting herself with the classroom, her husband will be teaching computer science at F&M, and her young daughter, Catherine, will be enjoying her new backyard and front-porch swing.