New mathematical institute will tackle medical and global issues

New mathematical institute will tackle medical and global issues

A new institute which will use mathematics to advance medical breakthroughs and tackle critical global issues, will be launched by the University of Aberdeen today (Wednesday 16 September).

New drug discoveries, a greater understanding of climate change and extreme global events such as earthquakes, are just some of the aims of the research which will be conducted by the institute.

The Institute of Complex Systems and Mathematical Biology brings together leading international experts from across the globe in areas including mathematics, biology, physics, engineering and politics.

The integration of mathematical developments with biological experiments – known as systems biology – will be the institute’s main concern, positioning the University at the international forefront of this emerging area of science.

The further development of mathematics will also be a key area of research.

Over thirty scientists will work within the institute which will be based at the University’s Meston Building on its King’s College Campus.

Four of these academics have been recruited to the University as Sixth Century Chairs, as part of a £9million investment programme to recruit outstanding scholars who have achieved international distinction in their fields.

The University launched the second phase of its Sixth Century recruitment drive in April this year – investing a further £15million towards bringing even more internationally renowned professors and senior scholars to the institution.

Some of the key research which will be conducted by the Institute of Complex Systems and Mathematical Biology includes:

  • The development of mathematical models to predict when an earthquake will strike based on measurements of the earth’s vibrations.


  • An epileptic fit is caused by neurons - electrical pulses - in the brain firing at the same time.  Scientists at the institute will use mathematics to understand the mechanism in the brain which causes this to occur.  This could lead to the creation of a device which would be worn by epileptics to halt this mechanism in the brain and ultimately stop fits from occurring.


  • The use of mathematics to predict the effects of global warming and examine the wide ranging consequential impact felt for example by society, politics and biology.


  • Using mathematics to examine how bacteria reacts in order to survive the natural defence mechanisms in our bodies.  Better understanding of this reaction could lead to improved treatment of conditions such as thrush.


  • The creation of mathematical models which could help us to predict when we are on the cusp of major political change such as the introduction of the national smoking ban.


  • Using the same mathematical model which is applied to how and why a traffic jam occurs, to understand how DNA is processed in the body to form a complete human being.


Professor Albert Rodger, Vice-Principal and Head of the College of Physical Sciences at the University of Aberdeen said: “The Institute of Complex Systems and Mathematical Biology positions the University of Aberdeen amongst internationally acclaimed institutions who are leading advances in this exciting new area of academia. 

“The institute draws together the University’s research strengths in subjects including mathematics, physics, biology, computing science, engineering and politics.  Research will focus on mathematical solutions to real life global issues, with the aim of forging new breakthroughs in areas such as medicine, geology and climate change.” 

Professor Celso Grebogi of the University of Aberdeen’s School of Natural and Computing Sciences will act as Director of the Institute for Complex Systems and Mathematical Biology. 

He said: “Major discoveries have taken place within mathematics over the last few decades.  The powerful mathematical techniques which have been developed are now being applied to a diverse range of subject areas – including for example biology and politics – and are resulting in significant breakthroughs in our knowledge of the world around us.

“From how the human body functions to why political scenarios escalate, earthquakes occur or the effects of global warming, the University of Aberdeen Institute of Complex Systems and Mathematical Biology brings together leading international scientists to provide answers to these questions, which will have a potential impact on a worldwide scale.”

A five day conference entitled Dynamics in Systems Biology is being held at the University this week (14 – 18 September) to mark the launch of the institute. 

Two hundred delegates from across the globe are attending the inaugural event which will see forty key international experts deliver plenary talks.

Key discussion points at the conference will include avoidance of epileptic seizures, detection and control of arrhythmia, bacterial infections diseases, mitigation of jet-lag, and cancer spreading.

Speakers at the conference include: Professor Mike Tyers, Director of the Scottish Universities Life Sciences Alliance; Professor Frank Juelicher, Director of the Max-Planck-Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems; Professor David Rand, Director of the Warwick Systems Biology Centre; and Professor Steven Schiff, Director of the Pennsylvania State Centre for Neural Engineering.