study diseases

This is my first ever post in the new ‘Boyd Orr Centre Blog’. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a ‘physicist working in mathematical biology’ (a friend of mine once said ‘there are no ex-physicists just physicists working elsewhere’). I am currently the Director of the Boyd Orr Centre for Population and Ecosystem Health based at the University of Glasgow, and thus the title of this blog. The intention is to combine a bit about what the Boyd Orr Centre is, and what it is about, with some thoughts on the three ‘E’s (epidemiology, ecology and evolution) and possibly the odd random personal thought. I can see a sub-category happening – Good and Bad Science in the Movies, starting with the eagerly anticipated Star Trek: Into Darkness (fyi I’ve considerable fondness for Star Trek: TOS without exactly being a ‘Trekkie’ or ‘Trekker; the reboot isn’t bad, but could do with a bit more of the old-fashioned speculative fiction aspect of the original series). The centre of it will inevitably be mathematical modelling, but hopefully I’ll have the time to extend beyond that. I may also spend a fair bit of time on bovine Tuberculosis, the focus of a lot of the work of my research group and collaborators recently.

So what is the Boyd Orr Centre? You can follow the link for more info, but in brief, it is the result of a desire by a consortium of researchers to bring a focus to a variety of work done at Glasgow and with many colleagues elsewhere, and motivated by the need to bring together a large number of disciplines to study real ecological systems (more and more it seems we study diseases, but it isn’t exclusively that). The aim is ultimately to solve or contribute to the solution of real problems. In my view, in the broad, one of the most important attributes of a physicist is the desire to use quantitative tools to solve problems, rather than being primarily interested in the tools themselves. Importantly, there is a emphasis on engaging fully with the data and I believe it is this philosophy that underpins much of what the Boyd Orr Centre is about. What this means is that we’ve got field ecologists, bioinformaticians, mathematicians, computer scientists, economists, veterinarians, and lots of others (and yes, physicists) with broadly speaking very similar goals. Its a fantastic group of people, who by and large get along really well socially as well as academically and have produced some fantastic work over the last few years. And so one aim of this blog is to try to highlight some of this to all (one? none?) of you.

A final thought for today – as a Canadian, I find this rather disappointing. It isn’t the Canada I remember.