• Question: Mathematics relates to everything in biology, from the fibonacci numbers in the petals of different plant species to equations to figure out diversity. So, How does it apply to your field of research?

    Asked by anacondas1 to Damien, Rachael, Simon, Suzi, Tim on 18 Jun 2011.
    • Photo: Suzi Gage

      Suzi Gage answered on 13 Jun 2011:

      My PhD is almost entirely maths! Statistics to be precise. Because the data I use has already been collected, I have to analyse it really carefully, which takes a lot of mathematical fun and skill. I need to work out if differences between 2 groups of people have arisen by chance or really mean that the 2 groups are ACTUALLY different.

      I use fun computer software to run the complicated analyses, but I have to work out myself what analyses I need to do.

      I wouldn’t be able to do anything without maths 🙂

      Hope this answers your question!

    • Photo: Rachael Ward

      Rachael Ward answered on 13 Jun 2011:

      Good point @anacondas1 !
      I was never very good at maths but it is very important in my work so I have to try very hard to understand it and get it right.

      I mainly use it in statistics to help me organise and interpret my data. Statistics can help me understand how many times I should repeat an experiment to be more sure its giving me the true result. And they can also tell me how “statistically significant” something is – or how likely it is to have happened by chance.

      To show how important maths and stats are in biology, we have a group of “biostatisticians” at my work who we can go to for help and you can study biostatistics at university.

    • Photo: Tim Fosker

      Tim Fosker answered on 13 Jun 2011:

      Hi @anacondas1

      As you say the beauty of mathematics is that everything can be described by numbers. In my research I use mathematics to create and change the sound waves that I present to children – speech can be described by mathematical equations but it still sounds quite artificial (we haven’t got the perfect equations yet). I also use mathematics to look at the brain activity I measure from children when they listen to spoken words or sounds. My most widely used mathematics is ‘Fourier analysis’ which explains how complex repeating waves can be described by adding a number of simple repeating waves together.

      I hope that answered your question.

    • Photo: Simon Bennett

      Simon Bennett answered on 13 Jun 2011:


      I also use statistics to work if there is a significant difference between 2 groups of data but I also have to rearrange equations a lot to work out the concentrations of drugs and electrical resistances.

      I was never good with maths in school and I did not do an A-level in it, so while it is very useful for science it is not essential for some areas. I found hard to understand in math lessons but once I was using it as a tool in science it was much easier to get my head around the equations.


    • Photo: Damien Hall

      Damien Hall answered on 18 Jun 2011:

      I use a lot of statistics in my work – like everyone else in the group! I’m like Suzi and Rachel because probably the main statistics that I do is to try and find out whether two groups (of sounds, in my case) are fundamentally different, or whether on the other hand the differences have come up by chance. But I’m also a bit like Tim and Simon – I work on language, like Tim, and I didn’t do a Maths A-Level, like Simon.

      In fact, when I was at school I had to do Maths AS-Level because we had done GCSE a year early (at 15), but it was compulsory to keep doing Maths until you were 16, so we had to do something that would just last a year. We did AS-Level, and I got the worst result I have ever had in an exam! But I use that kind of thing a lot now, and, like Tim says, it is fun and beautiful sometimes.