Research Opens Student’s Eyes to Mathematical Possibilities

Lauren Lembcke | Undergraduate, Mathematics

The phrase “aha moment” actually appears in the Merriam Webster’s dictionary, defined as “a moment of sudden realization, inspiration, insight, recognition or comprehension.”

Teachers refer to that familiar look in a student’s eyes as one of the driving forces of what draws them to the classroom. Sometimes these epiphanies lead to a better understanding of particular situation; other times they can be life changing. In the case of School of Science senior Lauren Lembcke, her “aha moment” helped her discover her true passion and define her career path.

“Growing up, I was always fascinated by biology, and I started with the idea that I would pursue that as my major” said Lembcke, originally from Anderson, Ind. “Then my interests changed more to computer science, and a bit later to chemistry.

“It wasn’t until I came back from a vacation, and I was doing my math homework that I realized it still felt like I was on vacation. I was having fun,” she added. “Since then, I’ve realized math is a part of everything. I can study math and still have an impact on many areas of science.”  

Lembcke will graduate in December 2014 with a B.S. degree in mathematics and minors in chemistry and computer science. She plans to attend graduate school and pursue mathematical bioscience research, which she describes as “this awesome little pocket of math I never knew existed.”

Ahmed Malik
Math department chair and School of Science Dean present Lauren with the Outstanding Senior Applied Math Major Award.

Her research experiences with mentor Julia Arciero, Ph.D., assistant professor of mathematical sciences, have opened her eyes to how math and biology intersect, she said. Arciero is developing theoretical models to investigate an inflammatory gut disease called necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), which affects premature infants. The goal is to better understand how cell migration and the strength of the intestinal wall impact the development of the disease.

“It has been an absolute pleasure to work with Lauren this year,” Arciero said. “She mastered the process of research in mathematical biology very quickly and is able to find new information and answers on her own. Her independence and work ethic are easily at the same level as a Ph.D. student.”

Lembcke said she is fascinated by how her research experience has transformed the way she looks at the sciences.

“When I first started studying math in college, I was like a lot of other people in that I thought it didn’t have any relevance,” she said. “I felt like I was trying to learn another language that nobody else spoke, and that I would never use.

“But, the more I pushed myself to understand, the more interesting it became,” she continued. “I grew to love the whole process of finding solutions to real-world problems using math.”

Lembcke’s research also opened up professional opportunities she never expected. Her participation in the Math Biosciences Institute (a competitive research program based on the campus of The Ohio State University) helped her understand the many ways math can be applied to medical research and treatments. The collaborative environment between IUPUI and the IU School of Medicine has broken down the myth that math majors won’t be able to find good jobs after graduation. Opportunities abound, she said.

When not studying, Lembcke can be found listening to podcasts as she commutes to campus from Columbus, Ind., knitting or completing some sort of art project. She is active at IUPUI in the Golden Key (honor society), Math Club and the local chapter of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics. She also is active in The Ridge, her church in Columbus.