NIMBioS internship combines Adams' interest in math, science

NIMBioS internship combines Adams’ interest in math, science

Nov. 7, 2013
Contact: Amber Roberts, Communications Assistant

This summer, Maryville College senior Robert Adams '14 had the opportunity to complete an internship at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS), which enabled him to combine his two interests: math and biology.

Hosted by the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, NIMBioS is a Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program that allows students to engage in hands-on research on one of six different research projects. The section of the program in which Adams participated lasted from June 10 to August 2.

“The NIMBioS Research Experience for Undergraduates is highly competitive, receiving applications from undergraduates from a variety of institutions across the country, so it is really an honor to be accepted into the program,” said Dr. Maria Siopsis, associate professor of mathematics at Maryville College and Adams' academic advisor.

Adams, a Louisville, Tenn., native who is double majoring in biochemistry and mathematics, was introduced to the NIMBioS program by Siopsis, who knew of his interest in applying mathematics to biological systems.

“For Robert, this program is important in two ways: first, he got research experience that gives him a taste for what kind of work mathematicians and scientists do every day, so he has a sense of what lies ahead for him if he decides to go into scientific research, and second, it gave him a chance to explore the connections between mathematics and biology, two areas he is very interested in,” Siopsis said. “As a math and biochemistry double major, Robert already is gaining experience and knowledge in both areas. However, this program allowed him to see the direct way the two disciplines can work together to solve important problems.”

Dr. Mary Turner, associate professor of chemistry at Maryville College and also Adams' academic advisor, agreed that the intersection between math and biology is what made the program so beneficial for Adams.

“Most of the really interesting questions in science right now are very complicated, requiring input from many various disciplines to achieve understanding,” Turner said. “NIMBioS focuses on the interaction of biology and computational mathematics. As a biochemistry major with a strong background in math, Robert is a great fit for the program.”

During his time in the NIMBioS program, Adams was involved in the group that helped with researching protein translation. According to the NIMBioS website, the research was focused on determining “our ability to extract information from genomic sequences.”

Adams was also able to get practical experience in computer programming.

“There is so much I've learned from this internship,” said Adams, a 2010 graduate of Heritage High School. “I've learned how programming is vital to success within this field. I have only had one computer science course, but the fundamentals taught at Maryville allowed me to learned the necessary skills for the task at hand.”

Siopsis said Adams’ internship provided “real world” experiences that will prepare him for the rest of his college career and beyond.

“On the one hand, Robert used a lot of math and science knowledge to explore his research question, and often, the work done in a program like this can turn into a very strong Senior Study project,” Siopsis said. “On the other hand, he had the opportunity to gain skills that will be valuable no matter what he decides to pursue after MC.”

For Adams, being a participant in the NIMBioS program provided experiences that extended beyond research.

“My favorite thing about my internship was meeting people who are also interested in working within the intersections of math and biology,” Adams said. “Also, I liked the fact that I was able to utilize my knowledge of molecular biology and mathematics in a real-world application.”

While Adams is keeping his plans for the future open, he believes that his experiences at NIMBioS have helped to provide valuable insight into the direction in which he would like his career to go.

“I want to go to graduate school,” Adams said. “I'm actually looking into a degree in physics, but there are so many options that contribute to the math-biology field that I can't be for sure. This internship helped me prepare for work as a scientist and allowed me to get a better understanding of myself and what I really want to do with my life.”

Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the fall 2016 semester is 1,197.