(L-R): Kwarta and Reber at the NIMBioS Conference
(L-R): Kwarta and Reber at the NIMBioS Conference
Author: Michelle [Shelly] Hillman
Date: December 4, 2017
Categories: Academics|Biology|Mathematics

Houghton College students Brielle Kwarta and Ben Reber recently attended the National Institute for Mathematics and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) 9th Annual Undergraduate Research Conference at the Interface of Biology and Mathematics.

Kwarta and Reber presented research on the Sarracenia purpurea, also known as the Northern pitcher plant, which is a perennial carnivorous plant found in nutrient-poor bogs in the Eastern part of the United States, the Great Lakes, and most of Canada. The pitcher plant – named for its distinct pitcher-shaped leaves that catch prey – gathers nutrients such as nitrogen from both prey as well as rainwater. Sarracenia purpurea is able to modulate growth rates between the carnivorous (pitcher-shaped leaves) and non-carnivorous parts (other leaf structures, known as phyllodia).

Using a mathematical method called optimal control theory, Kwarta and Reber worked with Dr. Jason Bintz, assistant professor of applied mathematics, to create a model that predicts the optimal growth schedule for a plant in varying environments.

The interdisciplinary nature of this study intrigued Kwarta in particular, drawing on her interest in both math and biology and expanding her skill set to include optimal control theory applied in a biological context. Such faculty-student research and conference experiences offer insights into post-collegiate career and study. As Kwarta notes, “At the conference I met many graduate school professors and began to network and brainstorm ideas for graduate school in Fall 2019.”

The National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis is a science synthesis center that explores the interface between math and biology. NIMBioS brings together the talents of researchers from around the world to collaborate across disciplinary boundaries and take an integrative approach to address the vast array of challenging questions in this 21st century of biology. Learn more at www.nimbios.org.