Navideh Noori (Institute for Disease Modeling), Jacob Scott (Lerner Research Institute, Cleveland Clinic), Ruth Bowness (University of Bath), and Reginald L. McGee II (College of the Holy Cross).

In this issue, we highlight the following:
  1. News – updates from: 
  2. People – Interviews with Professor Julia Gog, University of Cambridge, who is part of the Steering Committee for the Royal Society’s RAMP initiative (Rapid Assistance in Modelling the Pandemic).
  3. Editorial – Report on the 2020 SMB online Meeting, and an article about the meeting by The Scientist magazine.

To see the articles in this issue, click the links at the above items.

We welcome the SMB newsletter guest editor, Dr. Fiona Ruth Macfarlane, @weefifimac, University of St Andrews.

Contributing content

Issues of the newsletter are released four times per year in March, June, September and December. The newsletter serves the SMB community with news and updates, so please share it with your colleagues and contribute content to future issues.

We welcome your submissions to expand the content of the newsletter.  The next issue will be released in December 2020, so if you would like to contribute, please send an email to the editors by the end of November 2020 to discuss how your content can be included. This could include summaries of relevant conferences that you have attended, suggestions for interviews, professional development opportunities etc. Please note that job advertisements should be sent to the SMB digest rather than to the newsletter.

We are motivated to make changes in the format and content of upcoming issues of the newsletter to make it more dynamic. Stay tuned!

If you have any suggestions on how to improve the newsletter and would like to become more involved and/or contribute, please contact us at any time. We appreciate and welcome feedback and ideas from the community. The primary contact editor is Navideh.

We hope you enjoy this issue of the newsletter!

Ruth, Jacob, Reginald, and Navideh
Editors, SMB Newsletter



News Section

By Dr. Reginald L. McGee II

In this issue of the News section, we highlight the updates from SMB Subgroups, SMB mentoring program, Royal Society Publishing special issues, and online seminar series. Read on below.


SMB Subgroups Update


  • Cell and Developmental Biology Subgroup

The results of the subgroup election were:

Chair: Veronica Ciocanel (Duke University, USA)

Secretary: Rubén Pérez-Carrasco (Imperial College London, UK)

Committee members:

  • Linus Schumacher (University of Edinburgh, UK)
  • Tracy Stepien (University of Florida, USA)
  • Renske Vroomans (Origins Center, Netherlands)

A subgroup webpage is under development and should be released this fall.

  • Education Subgroup

Robert Smith? (University of Ottawa, CAN) was elected to serve as incoming chair of the subgroup. RB McGee (College of the Holy Cross, USA) will serve as the subgroup liaison to the SMB DEI committee.

The Society for Mathematical Biology Education Subgroup is hosting an informal meeting of educators and those interested in quantitative biology education. On Friday, October 9 at 12:00 p.m. EST, join us for a discussion on challenges, successes, and questions regarding teaching quantitative biology in the midst of a pandemic. The Zoom meeting information is:

Meeting ID: 943 2749 0845

Passcode: 4BRx0^

  • Mathematical Epidemiology Subgroup

Miranda Teboh-Ewungkem (Lehigh University, USA) was elected to serve as Vice-Chair of the subgroup. The subgroup will host an online meeting in early 2021. Details are forthcoming.

  • Mathematical Neuroscience Subgroup

Current officers Cheng Ly (Virginia Commonwealth University, USA), Wilten Nicola (University of Calgary, USA), and Youngmin Park (Brandeis University, USA) will serve another year.  There will be a business meeting in 2021 to find new officers.

  • Mathematical Oncology Subgroup

The Mathematical Oncology subgroup has appointed Prof. Mohit Kumar Jolly from the Indian Institute of Science as new Co-Leader. Mohit is replacing Prof. Sandy Anderson, whom we sincerely thank for his 3 years of service and leadership. 

The mathematical oncology subgroup is proud to count 214 members, many of which attended the eSMB annual meeting in August. 

We are currently in discussion to guest edit a special issue on eSMB Mathematical Oncology contributions. Please subscribe to the newsletter for announcements (, and follow us on twitter: @mathonco

  • Methods for Biological Modeling Subgroup

The subgroup has a new website for events, code, and tutorials: 


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SMB Mentoring Program


This year’s SMB Pre-conference Mentoring Program hosted ~120 attendees and featured four talks on different stages of one’s career trajectory, as well as a career panel. The talks covered attending virtual conferences, advice for finding postdoc positions and maximizing opportunities while a postdoc, and overviews of the job application and tenure processes. The SMB Academic Year Mentoring Program is accepting applications for 2020-2021, please see the flyer for more information.


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Royal Society Publishing Special Issues


  • A special double issue of Philosophical Transactions A entitled Stokes at 200 (Parts 1 & 2) – compiled and edited by Silvana Cardoso, Julyan Cartwright, Herbert Huppert and Christopher Ness and the articles can be accessed at and The issues are both currently FREELY available online!
  • A  special issue from Philosophical Transactions B entitled – Multi-scale analysis and modelling of collective migration in biological systems compiled and edited by Andreas Deutsch, Peter Friedl, Luigi Preziosi and Guy Theraulaz and the articles can be accessed directly at The issue is currently FREELY available online!


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Online Seminar Series


The University of Bordeaux are organizing a new webinar entitled “Infectious Disease Outbreaks”.  The goal of this series of talks is to present multiple aspects of mathematical modelling to address important problems relevant to infectious disease outbreaks. Such problems can be addressed from many different angles from data, to mathematical models, to simulations and their combinations. COVID-19 pandemic will indeed be one of major topics in this series of lectures. We organize this series of lectures, between France (Europe) and Canada (North America), to bring together mathematicians from both continents. 

The first talk will take place on Thursday October 15 2020: 

 9:00-9:45 AM (Eastern time) or 17:00-17:45 (in France) 

 Jacques Demongeot (University Grenoble Alpes), Modelling Covid-19 outspread dynamics involving geoclimatic and demographic factors

 9:45-10:00 AM  (Eastern time) or 17:45-18:30 (in France) 

Glenn Webb, Vanderbilt University, USA, Predicting the Development of COVID-19 Epidemics from Reported Case Data 

We plan to have one meeting every two weeks, which will consist in two 45-minutes talks given by one speaker from Europe and one speaker from North America. All the information concerning the talks will be given on the webpage  except for the zoom meeting information, which will be communicated by e-mail. 

We would be very pleased to welcome you in the online seminar. If you are willing to attend and wish to keep receiving information about this event, please contact Quentin Griette  so that we add you to the mailing list. 

Sincerely yours, 

  • Quentin Griette (Université de Bordeaux) 
  • Jane Heffernan (York University) 
  • Yvon Maday (Sorbonne Université) 
  • Pierre Magal (Université de Bordeaux) 
  • Jianhong Wu (York University)

(the organization committee)

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People Section

By Dr. Ruth Bowness

Ruth Bowness talks with Julia Gog, Professor of Mathematical Biology at DAMTP and David N Moore Fellow at Queens’ College, University of Cambridge. Julia is also part of the Steering Committee for the Royal Society’s RAMP initiative (Rapid Assistance in Modelling the Pandemic).

Your research focuses on mathematical modelling of infectious disease dynamics. Could you tell us about your research background, how you arrived in your current position and what attracted you to this field?

For me, there was a pivotal moment. While reading Part III Maths, the fourth year of my maths undergrad and masters, I took a course on nonlinear pattern formation. During this, we were directed to read a section of Jim Murray’s iconic textbook (then a single volume). Up to this time, I am not sure that I had really grasped that “Mathematical Biology” was even a thing, having been rather focussed on fluid dynamics and dynamical systems (an area where I’d had a summer project the year before: ( I think we were supposed to read the section on stripey animals, but my eye was drawn to the chapters on epidemics. How could something so complex (involves human/animal behaviour) and messy (involves biology!) be described in any meaningful way by relatively simple mathematical equations? And is that description robust enough to tell us anything about how to control infectious disease? My mind was blown, and still is.

The rest of the story would maybe read a bit like my CV. I’ve had immense amounts of help and luck along the way, particularly landing up in Bryan Grenfell’s research group for my PhD. I spent eight super valuable years in the Zoology Department in Cambridge, where I learnt about how much I don’t know, and was lucky again that a permanent position came up in DAMTP when it did. Being a Fellow of Queens’ College means that I’m among academics of all disciplines which is just a joy, and I can’t think of an area that infectious disease doesn’t intersect with somehow.

What is your favourite research paper (by another mathematical biologist)?

That’s a tough one, but right now it’s Pease 1987 ( I wrote a commentary on this paper with Viggo Andreasen recently. The interesting thing is that many of the ideas in this paper would not be so surprising to researchers in the field now, but putting it in the context of 1987, the thinking and arguments are truly remarkable, and ground-breaking. I wonder which ideas bobbing around now will turn out to be pivotal for our field?

What are you currently researching?

You’ll never guess..

Have you encountered any surprising results in your research?

One that I will never forget: during my PhD I was trying to find a way to make writing a system for many interacting disease strains tractable, essentially getting from a system with exponentially many dimensions (order 2^n for n strains) to something manageable. I had been chipping away at it for some time, but the moment of realisation came in a rather unexpected way. I was not at the office and I was not trying to work (playing computer games, having a beer…). The equations popped into my head very suddenly. Funny thing is, my reaction was not and elated “eureka, got it!”, but rather I didn’t believe that I could have thought of something that wasn’t nonsense… “why is this not right?”. I wrote the equations down, and then tried to ignore them until the next day when surely I would find my error. Of course, much careful work had to follow, and only then I finally felt happy about it. The surprising thing was that the system could be reduced to 2n dimensions, which was the best possible outcome. 

What is your favourite research paper that you have written?

I have never felt terribly comfortable writing papers, I much prefer talking! But, looking back, our first paper on the 2009 influenza pandemic in the US is close to my heart ( For me this was a terrifying plunge into dealing with beautiful yet mucky data. It was also a hugely fun collaboration, harking back to a happy time on sabbatical in Princeton.

What do you foresee as the biggest challenges in modeling of infectious diseases? 

Not so much foresee as now see… COVID-19. Of course it’s a big challenge for humanity in general, as I write this in August 2020, but it is seismic for our field. It is exciting for us to be able to contribute, but also terrifying and spectacularly uncomfortable for our research to be thrown into wide awareness in this way, to be routinely on news headlines, and to be under the scrutiny of the wider scientific community. I suspect I don’t see clearly yet what it means for the future of the field, but an immediate issue is the sheer volume of activity, where there’s some beautiful work happening under the radar, and maybe some of the higher profile outputs will turn out to be red herrings. Our usual community mechanisms of research selection are clearly not functioning while research is being produced at this pace, and the focus is (rightly!) on practical application rather than review and communication of new results. And I hope there will be many more scientists and mathematicians who would call themselves disease modellers at the end of this – there are plenty enough problems to go around!   

What advice would you give to a junior mathematical biologist?

Allow yourself to be curious about the problem itself: read around it and explore the area (in both mathematical and biological directions) even if not immediately applicable to what you are supposed to be doing. It’s those jumps and connections that are the real research moments, but you’ve got to give your mind the raw material.

What is the best part of being a mathematical biologist? 

The other mathematical biologists! It’s a fascinating and marvellous field that seems to attract amazing researchers from diverse backgrounds. It’s the research that attracted me here, but it’s doing the research with others that has kept me hooked.

Finally, what do you do in your spare time?

Some of my favourite things in no particular order: playing piano, crossfit, gin, badminton, gaming, travel, audiobooks and chilling on the sofa watching TV.

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Editorial Section

By Dr. Navideh Noori

In the Editorial section, we feature a report from the recent Society for Mathematical Biology annual meeting and an article about the meeting by The Scientist magazine.


Society for Mathematical Biology annual meeting report

This year, the Society for Mathematical Biology hosted its annual meeting online from August 17th to 20th, 2020. The online meeting, although it was a different experience, was very interactive, well-organized, more accessible, and opened up opportunities for many students.

The opening plenary of this meeting was given by Prof. Shayn Peirce-Cottler, University of Virginia, and discussed “Agent-based Modeling of Multi-Cellular Systems for Designing Better Therapies”.

The meeting included sub-groups minisymposia and contributed talks, followed by poster sessions, sub-group keynotes, and happy hour with friends and colleagues. There were also multiple subgroups and society business meetings.

The conference ended with a fascinating talk by Prof. Carl Bergstrom, University of Washington, discussing “Misinfodemic 2020: How quantitative misinformation misleads the public about COVID-19, and what mathematical biologists can do about it”.

Overall, the community presented diverse mathematical approaches during this virtual meeting and was very well-received.

The Scientist magazine wrote an article on SMB online meeting entitled “COVID-19 Ushers in the Future of Conferences.” Learn more about the article from this link.

In total, there were 2,435 #SMB2020 tweets before the closing plenary, and the potential reach of all tweets were 464,720. The Twitter award winners were Phebe Havor, Maria Abou Chakra, and Keith Eric Grant for being the most prolific original twitters during the meeting.

The poster and talk prize winners for each sup-group and their sponsors were:

  • Education:
    • poster prize: Rebecca Sanft and Anne Walter
    • Elsevier talk prize: Dmitry Kondrashov
  • Other, General Mathematical Biology:
    • SMB poster prize: Dominic Olver, Robyn Shuttleworth, Jackelyn Kembro
    • Wiley poster prize: Jonas Knoch
    • Elsevier talk prize: Jessica Crawshaw
  • Mathematical Oncology:
    • SMB poster prize: Derek Park, Dhananjay Bhaskar, Mark Roberston-Tessi
    • Amgen poster prize: Simon Mitchell
    • Elsevier talk prize: Pirmin Schlicke
  • Neuroscience:
    • Elsevier poster prize: Zeinab Tajik Mansoury
    • Elsevier talk prize: Lucas Stolerman
  • Methods for Biological Modeling:
    • SMB poster prize: Jungmin Han, Baylor Fain, Rey Audie Escosio
    • Berkeley-Madonna poster prize: Emily Zhang
    • Elsevier talk prize: Karina Islas Rios
  • Cell Developmental Biology:
    • SMB poster prize: Chiara Villa, Stephen Y. Zhang
    • Springer Nature poster prize: Erika Tsingos
    • Elsevier talk prize: Ulrich Dobramysl
  • Population Dynamics Ecology & Evolution:
    • SMB poster prize: Shota Shibasaki, Vitor de Oliveira Sudbrack, Fernando Luiz
    • DILIsym poster prize: Vahini Reddy
    • Elsevier talk prize: Bo Zhang
  • Mathematical Epidemiology:
    • SMB poster prize: Deena Schmidt, Hana Dobrovolny, Michael Pablo
    • Applied Biomath poster prize: Caroline Franco
    • Elsevier talk prize: Jeremy D’Silve
  • Immunology & Infection:
    • SMB poster prize: Amanda Alexander, Cara Sulyok, Viktor Zenkov
    • Elsevier talk prize: Vitaly Ganusov

If you have missed the plenary and keynote lectures, you can watch them on the society YouTube channel. A huge thank you to the organizers, and sponsors of this successful online meeting.


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