Louis J Gross ; U of Tennessee Knoxville
Alternative Routes to Quantitative Literacy for the Life Sciences

Participant individuals:
CoPrincipal Investigator(s): Beth C Mullin; Susan E Riechert
Senior personnel(s): Otto J Schwarz
Graduate student(s): Susan Harrell; Monica Beals

Partner organizations:
Other collaborators:

Numerous contacts have been made during the interactions below.
Additionally, the P.I. has had regular contact with Dr. John Jungck of
the BioQuest project regarding activities under this award.

Mathematics Awareness Month, a project of the Joint Policy Board for 
Mathematics, this year focused on Mathematical Biology. As part of
this, Dr. Gross wrote two essays which were posted on special page of
the Mathematics Awareness Month Home Page, located at the Mathematics
Forum Site at 
and Dr. Gross also organized the Mathematics Awareness day activities
at UTK focused on high school students. Information on the Day's
activities are at: 

NSF Chautauqua Course 'Quantitative Life Science Education: Preparing

Fearless Biologists'. Presented by Dr. Gross at Christian Brothers 
University, Memphis, TN on June 17-19, 1999 at no cost to this
project. This included detailed descriptions of the efforts on this
project, copies of modules provided to the Course participants, and
feedback from the participants (all of whom were college mathematics
or biology faculty) on these modules was obtained. 

Special Session on Education in Mathematical Biology, chaired by 
Dr. Gross at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Mathematical
Biology at the Free University, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, June
29-July 3, 1999 at no cost to this project. Dr. Gross presented a
paper on the project 'Quantitative Training in the Life Sciences:
Designing an Undergraduate Curriculum in Computational Biology', and
led a separate group discussion on mathematics for biology students.

Poster presented by Susan Harrell at the Annual Meeting of the
Ecological Society of America, Spokane, Washington, August 9, 1999,
partially supported by this project. Poster title was 'Improving the
quantitativeskills of life sciences students through General Biology
reform' and provided a summary of the efforts on this project. Poster
content is available on the project home page. 

Activities and findings:

Research Activities: 
Quantitative Competency Exams: There were several project components under development over this first year of funded effort. First, a quantitative competency examination was developed specifically to evaluate the quantitative skills of students taking the general biology sequence for science majors. This exam was developed based upon the skills and concepts that Dr. Mullin thoughtappropriate for students taking the Organization and Function of the Cell component of the general biology sequence. The exam was given at the beginning of the semester to students in all sections of the course, and a retest was given at the end of the semester. Results were compared between students in Dr. Mullin's class, in which a preliminary effort was made to illustrate quantitative concepts appropriate to certain portions of the course material, and students in other sections taught by faculty without any particular emphasis on quantitative concepts. Dr. Mullin emphasized quantitative concepts in lectures, included quantitative problems on class exams, and encouraged students to work on understanding the problems on the competency exam. Student test scores at the end of the semester increased dramatically from those at the beginning of the semester in Dr. Mullin's course, while they did not change at all for the other sections. Although this clearly demonstates the capability for student's basic comprehension of quantitative ideas to improve during a science course without explicit instruction in quantitative concepts, there were explicit incentives to improve given to students in Dr. Mullin's class that were not present in the other course sections. Data and Figures describing the results are in a poster that provides an overview of the project on the project home page at: Primer of Quantitative Biology: A second major component of the project involves the development of a Primer of Quantitative Biology designed to accompany a general biology sequence. The objective is to provide, for each standard section of such a course sequence, a set of short, self-contained examples of how quantitative approaches have taught us something new in that areaof biology. We are aiming most examples towards high-school level math, though there will be calculus and above examples included throughout as well. A standard format for each module was established and a draft collection of over 35 modules have been developed to date. These have all been made available through the project home page. As development of these modules were ongoing during the first year of the project, they have not yet been used (except for a few that Dr. Mullin discussed in the Cell Biology course) in a course setting. After discussion with several potential publishers, it was decided that the Primer would have two components. The beginning of the Primer will consist of brief reviews of basic mathematical concepts, mainly at a high school level, that are essential to understanding the basic quantitative literature in biology. These will be discussed completely with biological examples and linked in detail to the second part of the Primer which will consist of the modules described above. The full text would be published as hard-copy by a commercial publisher, while the majority of the modules (perhaps all of them) would be available for free individual use on the web. Activities for Second Year of the Project: The major efforts will be: 1. Completion of a first draft of the Primer of Quantitative Biology. This will include the development of additional modules particularly in the areas of Ecology and Evolution. 2. Use of the modules in the Biodiversity component of the general biology sequence taught by Dr. Riechert during Fall semester. This will include the competency evaluation and the evaluation of course materials. Additionally, specific modules will be developed to link with the the laboratory component of this course. 3. Use of the modules in the Cell Biology component of the general biology sequence by Dr. Schwarz in conjunction with efforts to modify the laboratory component of this course to further enhance the quantitative concepts and skills expected of students.

Activities and findings:

Research Findings:
See above comments on the Quantitative Competency exam and results from using it in the general biology courses. Also see the poster that is available through the project home page at

Research Training:
For the faculty involved, this has involved collaboration between the biology and mathematics faculty and encouraged the inclusion of more quantitative ideas in the general biology courses. This involved collaborations between a the faculty and a math as well as a biology graduate student to develop exams, laboratory materials and course materials. The graduate students involved have not only increased their undrstanding of the utility of quantitative approaches in variety of biological areas, but have also enhanced their writing, presentation and html authoring skills.

Education and Outreach:
As mentioned elsewhere in this report several activities were carried on to dissemniate information. Those oriented towards the general public include: Mathematics Awareness Month, a project of the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics, this year focused on Mathematical Biology. As part of this, Dr. Gross wrote two essays which were posted on special page of the Mathematics Awareness Month Home Page, located at the Mathematics Forum Site at and Dr. Gross also organized the Mathematics Awareness day activities at UTK focused on high school students. Information on the Day's activities are at: Home Page: In addition to basic information about the project and the collection of modules developed, this contains a page with an extensive collection of links to ongoing reform projects in General Biology education developed as an aid to this project. It also contains links to a wide variety of ongoing projects devoted to quantitative training in the life sciences, developed in collaboration with the Education Committee of the Society for Mathematical Biology. Location is

Journal Publications:

Book(s) or other one-time publication(s):

Internet Dissemination:

This is the project Home Page containing modules developed for this
project, various competency exams, a poster describing the project,
and a variety of links to other relevant materials

Other specific products:

Teaching aids
A set of brief modules, in a standard format we have developed, were
created to aid the use of quantitative methods for general biology
students and instructors. These modules form part of the Primer of
Quantitative Biology being developed for this project.
These modules are posted in html to the project home page, and will be
included in a commercially-published volume.


Contributions within Discipline:

 This project has a major goal of enhancing the quantitative
understanding of undergraduate life science students at an early stage
of their education. Efforts to date indicate that use of materials
such as those we are developing definitely enhance students'
comprehension of basic mathematical concepts of importance in biology.
The modules we have developed should be readily applicable in many
different settings in general biology courses.

Contributions to Other Disciplines:
 A longer term objective of this project is to enhance life science
students' appreciate for the utility of mathematics and hopefully
encourage more students to consider more advanced quantitative
training. The growing fields of computational biology, bioinformatics
and genomics will benefit from an influx of quantitatively literate

Contributions to Education and Human Resources:
 In addition to the training of the two graduate students involved in
this project, to date the project has impacted over 200 undergraduate
students, and during the second year of the project we estimate there
will be an additional 700 students directly affected by the project.
Publicity for the use of the modules we are devloping is underway, and
we expect that individuals at a variety of institutions will begin to
utilize these in some way over the next year.

Special Requirements for Annual Project Report:

Unobligated funds: less than 20 percent of current funds
Categories for which nothing is reported:
Participants: Partner organizations
Products: Journal Publications
Products: Book or other one-time publication
Contributions to Resources for Science and Technology
Contributions Beyond Science and Engineering
Special Reporting Requirements
Animal, Human Subjects, Biohazards