Saturday, April 13, 2013

Mathematics of Life: Unlocking the Secrets of Existence

Author:       Ian Stewart
Published:  2011
Publisher:  Profile Books Ltd.
Hardcover: 368 pages

 I remember my high school days in late seventies, when the students who wanted to join the science stream but were not confident about their mathematical abilities would choose PCB (Physics, Chemistry, Biology) instead of PCM (Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics)  as their subjects. 
Seems like this escape from mathematics is no longer an option in twenty-first century !

Many of the important questions opened up by modern discoveries in biology cannot be answered without significantly drawing upon the knowledge of mathematics.
Therefore in the present times biologists and mathematicians are collaborating on finding solutions to such questions especially those related to nature and origins of life itself.
The former pose the biological questions or describe a set of experiments, while the later develop a mathematical models to simulate them.

Welcome to the field of Mathematical Biology ! This book is a layman's primer on this subject.

It explores several connections between mathematics and biology, viz; -  the Human Genome Project; the structure and function of the complex molecules that coordinate the complex process of life; the shape of viruses; the organization of cells; the form and behavior of entire organisms and their interaction in the global ecosystem; evolutionary games that led to huge diversity of life in earth; the workings of the nervous system and the brain; nature of life; possibility of alien life forms.
The theory behind these connections encompass a wide range of mathematical concepts - probability, dynamics, chaos theory, symmetry, networks, mechanics, elasticity, knot theory.

While I don't claim to have understood each and every topic discussed in this book, I found it a really interesting read and would recommend it to anyone who is a keen reader of  popular science genre.
 Pythagoras the renowned mathematician of ancient Greece once said,"All things are numbers" Ian Stewart, the author of this book and a mathematician of the modern era  has shown that this statement is true to a great extent in life forms.


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