SIUE math major presents research at national conference

SIUE junior Kelly Buch is pursuing a career in biomathematics. SIUE currently does not have a bio math program, so Buch must actively seek research opportunities to prepare for graduate school.

SIUE junior Kelly Buch (right) presented her research in a poster and oral presentation in January. (Courtesy photo)

SIUE junior Kelly Buch (right) presented her research in a poster and oral presentation in January. (Courtesy photo)

Buch earned a lucrative opportunity last summer when she attended the Mathematical and Theoretical Biology Institute. Buch presented her research at the Mathematical Association of America’s Joint Math Meetings in Seattle this past January.

During the intensive, two-month program, Buch worked with other math students to research and develop mathematical models, equations and analysis techniques to get answers for her case study. Buch and her group members chose to analyze and research the mating behavior of Side-Blotched lizards, which are native to the American Southwest. Buch found that male lizards play a mating game similar to rock, paper, scissors based on throat skin color.

“There’s three types, and you’re inferior to one but you’re superior to the other,” Buch said. “There’s not one male type that is superior. In rock, paper scissors if you take rock out of the game and you just have paper and scissors, that’s not a fun game anymore because we know who’s going to win that straight competition and there’s going to be one winner every time and eventually that male type will be touched.”

Buch said research days lasted 15-18 hours per day. Competition between the groups made the research sessions more intense.

“We all wanted to be the best,” Buch said. “So it kind of helped motivate us to get up and do everything so early. I worked incredibly hard and I didn’t sleep a lot and it was very stressful, but it was incredible and the most amazing experience of my life. It was very difficult mentally and physically, but it was worth it.”

Buch was selected among hundreds of applicants to attend the program at ASU. She collaborated with a student from the University of Florida and a student from the University of Los Andes (Colombia). Buch and her group compiled a 20-page technical report and also created a poster to present their research.

At the JMM conference, Buch gave her poster presentation and was also selected to give a 10-minute oral presentation of her research, titled “Female Centered Mate Selections as an Explanatory Mechanism for Dimorphic Solutions in a Rock-Paper-Scissors Game.”

“It did a lot to help me,” Buch said. “Most importantly, it taught me that biomathematics is what I want to do. I want to do research that combines math and biology. So looking at conservation and invasive species and things like that. We were introduced to a lot of different parts of mathematical biology a little bit and just seeing that taught me this is what I want to do.”

Buch, a recipient of the Meridian scholarship, plans to continue to pursue research opportunities and to attend more academic conferences in the future. She has already made visits to universities to apply for a PhD program related to biomathematics including the University of Tennessee, North Carolina State and Arizona State.

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