A Postcard From: Junyan Duan ’19

Name: Junyan Duan
Class Year: 2019
Major: Mathematics
Hometown: Nanjing, China

Internship Placement: SMALL Undergraduate Research Project at Williams College
Job Title: Student Researcher
Location: Williamstown, Mass.

Williams College campus

Williams College campus

What is happening at your internship?

SMALL at Williams College is a 10-week program that provides research opportunities for undergraduates in math-related fields. Together with three other undergraduate students, I’m working on two mathematical ecology projects: One focuses on the spread and control of white nose syndrome in bats and the other focuses on ecosystem federalism.

Caused by a fungus called P. destructans, white nose syndrome (WNS) constantly wakes up hibernating bats, and this leads to drastic depletion in fat storage and then starvation-related death before spring. WNS was first detected in New York in 2006 and has spread out in the U.S. Because the rate of disease-induced mortality is so high, ecologists predict that some bat species will go extinct by 2023. As it’s not reasonable to do large-scale experiments on those bats, using mathematical models to simulate the situation is a better choice. We have updated the model and tested several potential control methods suggested by biologists and ecologists according to their data collected in labs.

For the ecosystem federalism project, we focus mainly on disease outbreaks. We developed SIR models to study disease dynamics and to see how different levels of government influence the outcome.

Why did you apply for this internship?

I applied for this internship because of my passion for both biology and mathematics. At the end of my sophomore year, I settled my mind to focus on applied math, especially mathematical biology, which is the overlap of the two fields. After going through a list of REU programs, I applied to several that offered research opportunities in mathematical biology (or mathematical ecology).

Living in a new city? What has that experience been like for you?

Williamstown is surrounded by mountains and the closest airport is in Albany, which is about 30 miles away. Williamstown is small but filled with fun activities in the summer. Williams College Museum of Art offers free lecture series and music events in July and those talks are always fun and inspiring. Clark Art Institute is an art museum within walking distance and SMALL students often go there on weekends. MASS MOCA is another art museum nearby and it’s a good place to go to as well. Williamstown Theater Festival started around the beginning of July, and this year Matthew Broderick came and performed in one of the comedies.

Williams College Shop

Williams College Shop

SMALL students also organize fun activities such as hiking, movie nights, ballroom dance and game nights.

What has been your favorite part of this internship?

Besides what I do every day, such as researching, developing models and analyzing results, going to science lunch and talks as well as math department tea events and talks is my favorite part of this internship. The talks expand my knowledge not only math, but also in various fields such as material science and ornithology. Tea and lunch events allow me to communicate with professors and students and learn more about other students’ research.