April 1999

Dear SMB member:

As my two-year term draws to a close I would like to take the opportunity to look back over the changes in the past two years, and then to look forward.

The most important change involves the initiation of publishing the Bulletin for Mathematical Biology by Academic Press in January 1998. Aside from some technical glitches that appear to be due to unique and correctable circumstances, the transition has gone smoothly. The transition also involved the Society taking over the billing of members. I am aware of a couple of members who had difficulties with billing and/or subscriptions, but for almost all, there were no problems. The Bulletin is now available electronically, and due to the very careful evaluations and negotiations leading to the change of publishers by former President, Leah Edelstein-Keshet, and Editor, Lee Segal, our revenue from the Bulletin should significantly improve.

In an effort to improve the internal functioning of our Society and its service to members, a number of Committees have been reinvigorated or initiated. Ramit Mehr has been instrumental, with the assistance of Elizabeth Scholl, in improving the appearance and utility of our Web Site and in editing the newsletter. The Finance Committee led by Ray Mejia has been working with our Treasurer Torcom Chorbajian to improve returns on our investments and to keep a tight check on finances and expenditures. John Jungck and the Education Committee have helped organize sessions at annual meetings and are helping to direct attention to the very important needs for mathematics in undergraduate biology education. Jorge X. Velasco Hernandez has been working to develop a set of policies to help foster mathematical biology in developing countries with the World Outreach Committee. The Society also had a successful annual meeting in Toronto in July 1998 in association with SIAM. Planning is in the final stages for the annual meeting from June 29 - July 3 in Amsterdam in association with our European Colleagues.

Recent years have witnessed profound achievements in our discipline. Mathematics now forms an essential component of research in many areas of biology including ionics and wave propagation in excitable tissue, hematology and immunology, population biology and ecology, structure of biomolecules, medical imaging, epidemiology, genomics and bioinformatics. Some areas, such as bioinformatics and computational biology are undergoing explosive growth - often associated with industrial projects sparked by new technology. There is a growing need for workers with expertise in mathematics and biology. Paradoxically, significant challenges arise from the success of our discipline. To me, the most compelling challenge arises from the observation that as the science matures, mathematics becomes integrated into the language of the biological discipline. Researchers who have developed the real mathematics-biology links often shift their alliances and interests into their chosen biological discipline, leading to reduced ties to mathematical biology. Yet biological science departments usually require their students to learn only rudimentary mathematics, and have been notoriously slow in hiring individuals with mathematical expertise.

Another challenge for the Society for Mathematical Biology arises from the development of competing societies. Subdisciplines, such as computational biology or population biology, often grow sufficiently strong that new specialized societies emerge. Established societies like SIAM consider establishing activity groups in Mathematical Biology. Over recent years I have been greatly impressed by students and young researchers who share a common fascination with mathematics and biology but who have training in diverse fields - computer science, biomedical engineering, physics and mathematics. Each discipline has a different culture. Our Society could form a resource that encompasses all these different areas and interests that link mathematics and biology. Yet, to do this would require running the Society in a much different and more entrepreneurial manner than has been the policy to date.

Despite the scientific achievements of the past, profound questions about biological functioning persist. Mathematics and computers are helping revolutionize our understanding of biological systems - ranging from studies of molecular dynamics that elucidate the function of biomolecules to simulations of entire ecosystems. The Society for Mathematical Biology has important roles to play in fostering the development of our field.

My thanks to the SMB Board and the many other individuals who have contributed to the Society functionings over the past two years, and best wishes to Alan Hastings in his upcoming term as President.


Leon Glass

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