Santa Fe Institute

Darwin’s extra sense: How mathematics is revolutionizing biology

Jan. 25, 2013 8:06 a.m.

“Darwin’s Extra Sense,” a new video produced by SFI External Professor Dan Rockmore and collaborators, explores the ways applied mathematics is opening doors to astonishing insights in the life sciences – from evolutionary biology to protein folding and brain science.

Watch “Darwin’s Extra Sense” here (45 minutes)

“The field of biology had taken awhile for quantitative efforts to enter it, and now it has been truly transformed,” says Rockmore, a professor of mathematics and computer science at Dartmouth College. He produced the film in collaboration with filmmakers Wendy Conquest and Bob Drake, with financial support from the National Science Foundation and SFI.

The film tells the story of how the mathematical articulation of heredity by Gregor Mendel and others saved Charles Darwin’s initially flawed theory of evolution.

Darwin is quoted on his inability to apply math rigorously to his research: “I deeply regretted that I did not proceed far enough at least to understand something of the great leading principles of mathematics, for men thus endowed seem to have an extra sense.”

The video then shows how mathematics and computer modeling approaches, some of which were pioneered at the Institute, are bringing about a predictive and pattern-oriented understanding of previously descriptive sciences.

Interviews with modern researchers describe how new applications of mathematics to biology is revolutionizing ecology, cell biology, population genetics, healthcare, and neuroscience

“Telling these visual stories about science can be a great way to motivate students and even other researchers,” Rockmore says. “I certainly hope a lot of people watch the film.”

Watch “Darwin’s Extra Sense” here (45 minutes)

All SFI NewsAbout SFIFollow SFISupport SFISFI Home

News Media Contact

  • John German
  • Director of Communications
  • (505) 946-2798

SFI People in the News