6/23/2006

A little background

I thought I'd give a little background on where my interest in CB comes from. Without further ado:

Why I'm interested in CB

CB is an incredibly cool field at the moment. Data is turning up by the truckload. New techniques and cool tricks are being developed at a rate that AFAICT is actually accelerating. There's thousands of new ideas and unanswered questions floating around to play with. More will no doubt emerge as computers continue to get more and more powerful. This is all extremely neat stuff, and I want in.

Even if I were to eventually lose interest in academia, that wouldn't be the end of my involvement - the field of bioinformatics is booming. There's a reason why the Cambridge course syllabus includes three months in industry. This wouldn't be the case if I stuck with my other love of pure maths - pure mathematicians who actually want to do maths are basically stuck in academia.

Why I'm interested in CB

It all started off when I was about 13. A bunch of my friends were attending a Christian youth club, and I went along for the ride. Lovely people. Staunch Young Earth Creationists. Being the sort who asks perpetual irritating questions, I had wonderful fun arguing with them over the years.

When I hit uni, that stopped for a time. However, a couple years later on, I came across a link to the Kitzmiller vs. Dover trial, which involved a form of creationism called Intelligent Design. ID claims to be mainly mathematical, so I figured that as a mathematics student and a happy believer in evolution it was my bounden duty to read up on it. I did so and discovered that it was as terrible as I'd expected and then some, but in the course of arguing with ID proponents I discovered something that I'd never really realised before: biology is in fact extremely cool.

At school, they don't tell you much about the quantifiable, rigorous parts of biology - population genetics, evolutionary genetic algorithms, neural networks, protein folding, etc. Where they did tell you about it the information got delivered in a droning monotone, heavily watered down by shedloads of factoids. As a mathematician by inclination, that substantial absence of patterns in what we were doing really put me off, and I went for Chemistry instead (out of the frying pan...). So all this cool stuff you could do was something of a shock.

As I read, my mathematics background kept coming to the fore - I'd come up with interesting mathematical questions to puzzle over. I then kept discovering that the majority of them had already been answered - mostly by computational biologists. I think it was when I found myself absent-mindedly trying to compose an atom-by-atom image of a complete bacterial flagellum that I realised CB was for me.

19 Comments:

Blogger Pedro Beltrão said...

I am always glad to see another CB related blog. You probably know it already but if you don't have a look at the nodalpoint community for lots of links and discussions. Blog away :)

6/23/2006 8:58 pm  
Blogger Coalescent said...

No, I'd never come across that before - thanks for the link.

I'm fairly impressed that you just managed to locate a blog that I know for a fact has never been referenced anywhere :) May I ask how this feat was accomplished?

6/23/2006 10:27 pm  
Blogger Pedro Beltrão said...

Bioinformatics is one of the topics i track in technorati. I think that is how I found your blog.
There will be soon a blog carnival for computational biology, feel free to submit a link of one of your posts :). More info in bioblogs.wordpress.com.

6/24/2006 7:04 pm  
Blogger Coalescent said...

Ah, that explains it! Hadn't realised that blogger was tied into technorati.

I noticed the Bio::Blogs carnival - it looks like it's going to be really good. At the moment, though, I suspect that my posts are several academic levels below what your readers would be interested in. Maybe in a few months time, when I'm a little less distant from the cutting edge :)

6/24/2006 8:25 pm  
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