Life in numbers: thanks and farewell, Dr Lindsay Waldrop

Humans like to categorise things, and scientists like to categorise things more than most humans – there are entire scientific disciplines based on the putting of living things into categories on the basis of observable differences. We like our disciplines themselves to be categorised too, placed into little discrete self-contained boxes whereupon ne’er the twain shall meet:

That said, interdisciplinary research is where it’s at right now. And right at the intersection of physics and biology you will find our curator for the last seven days, Dr Lindsay Waldrop of UNC Chapel Hill. Lindsay is a mathematician and physicist who works on complex problems in biology – at the moment, on modelling fluid flow in the vertebrate heart using the chordate sea squirt as an analogue (or as they would spell it in those parts, analog). This, to our completely unbiased worldview, is the coolest thing out of Chapel Hill since Michael Jordan was playing college ball for the Tar Heels.

In between fighting with photocopiers, cleaning fish tanks and marking midterm exam papers, Lindsay spent her week talking comparative biomechanics, crab sniffing, math phobia and how to overcome it, tunicate and crustacean biology, the beauty of basic research. the pros and cons of working with non-Newtonian fluids (in particular the etiquette of ordering caseloads of Pantene Pro-V from your local Walmart) and how evolution is less intelligent design, more Macgyver with a roll of gaffa tape and a bunch of cable ties. Thanks very much to Lindsay for her brilliant work on the account this week – keep following her at @invertenerd, and if you missed anything this week make sure to catch up via Storify.

Next week: Trent Yarwood, who went up a hill as a final-year medical doctor and came down a mountain as a public health specialist with a particular focus on antibiotics.

Cross-Disciplinary Action: Welcome Dr Lindsay Waldrop

Our next curator for Real Scientists hails from  the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  Dr Lindsay Waldrop (@inverternerd) is a postdoctoral fellow in Mathematics whose work focuses on how tiny animals and their structures interact with fluid environments.
Lindsay was born in Minnesota and grew up in rural North Carolina.  She did her undergrad work in biology and physics at UNC-CH (same place) and went to graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley in Integrative Biology. For her dissertation, she studied how crabs sniff (or in more fancy terms, discrete odor sampling by crustaceans using antennules). Currently, Lindsay’s  work focuses on the tubular hearts of sea squirts (tunicates) and how we can use tunicates as a model system for studying fluid flow and transport by the human lymph system and development of the vertebrate heart. This work has applications in the development of fluid devices.
Naturally, this sort of work has taken Lindsay  to some fun places for field work: Monterey Bay, CA and Moorea, French Polynesia, and soon the Galapagos.
We asked Lindsay a few questions..
 1. How did you end up in science?
I ask entirely too many questions, which made me pretty insufferable as a kid. I never got out of the habit, so science seems like a pretty good fit for my personality. I ended up taking a few courses in college and having friends who went into science also that helped push me into that direction.

 2. Wait..How did you end up in mathematics after a degree in biology?

My original interests are in both biology and and physics. And all of the biology questions that I study are basically ones of physical interactions, so I need a lot of training in math in order to answer them. I ended up in a math department because the type of modeling that my postdoc adviser does is probably one of the best way to investigate fluid-structure interactions. Also, being in a math department is a great opportunity to meet collaborators and learn how to work with mathematicians.

3. What unique perspectives does a multidisciplinary approach bring?

Math is different than biology in a lot of important ways. Culturally, it is different. The research goals of mathematics is also different. Mathematicians aren’t necessarily concerned with answering questions about why things in nature are the way they are (like biologists or physicists), but developing better and more accurate methods for solving equations or proving theorems or learning how to apply new methods to very simplified physical situations that aren’t directly useful to biology. Learning how to apply these powerful methods in a way that is useful to biology requires understanding not just what is important to myself and other biologists but also how these applications and the research can benefit and be interesting to mathematicians.

4. Got any Hobbies?

I love SCUBA diving with my husband because eveeything that really excites me about biology lives down there. That we can visit it occasionally is pretty nice. I also love making things with my husband who is a metal artist. He taught me how to weld on one of our first dates! We are currently developing a marine-biology themed sculpture for our yard.

5. What research would you do if money was no object?

I would go to a lot of different places and collect ecological information about a lot of different animals to try and understand more about diversity of form and how it relates to environmental conditions. Very expensive to do, but could answer some interesting questions.
Please give Dr Waldrop a huge Real Scientists welcome!