Andrew Hein

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Andrew Hein


I am a third year PhD student in theoretical biology at the University of Florida, USA. I completed my bachelor's in biology with thesis work on the disease ecology of venomous snakes in the Southeastern US. Since then I’ve worked all over the southeastern US and the a bit in the Neotropics.

At various times in the not-too-distant past I have been an avid, canoeist, martial artist, rock climber, snorkeler, cook, songwriter, electric ukulele player, amateur photographer, and road racer.

What are your main interests?

I am very interested in how complex ecological and evolutionary dynamics play out across space. Much of my work has been focused on studying the formation and dissolution of transient spatial patterns in food webs. I think the idea of transient or periodic spatial pattern formation is quite general and may be applicable to many areas of social science, economics, evolutionary biology, and medicine.

I also work on energetics and how organismal energetics are related to the intrinsic scales at which organisms experience their environments.

I’ve thought a lot about applied problems in areas such as epidemiology, cancer biology, transportation, and economics. I have some specific ideas about modeling tumor growth and proliferation, immune systems, disease spread and diversification, and the like.

One of the things I really like to do is to try to find simple models and mathematics that capture the essence of very complex processes. One way to do this with biological systems is to try to reduce them to engineering problems. I think network analysis and dynamical systems theory also provide useful, but underused tools for simplifying the intricate problems that biologists study.

What sort of expertise can you bring to the group?

I have a lot of experience with theoretical and applied questions in ecology and evolutionary biology. In particular, I have an eye for fundamental questions that could use a touch of mathematics or statistics. I think I could suggest a number of problems that would be of interest to biologists, physicists, social scientists, and modelers.

What do you hope to get out of the csss?

It looks like many of the other students are familiar with network analysis. I would like to become more familiar with the techniques that are typically applied to networks—particularly dynamic networks. I am also looking forward to talking about big ideas with people from different fields. I find that, as I become more involved in my field of research, it is becoming harder and harder to talk about big ideas with people in other fields. I think csss will be a great opportunity to have some fascinating discussions about the fundamental problems in theoretical and applied natural and social science. I am hopeful that we will be able to “push the intellectual envelope” a little bit.

Do you have any possible projects in mind for the CSSS?

I am becoming increasingly interested in the relationship between energy and information in biological and social systems. One fundamental problem in the evolution of information transmission is how signaling structures (e.g. vocal cords) and receiving structures (e.g. eardrums) evolve and are maintained. This is sort of a chicken and egg problem but I think a dynamic evolutionary model might be able to yield some insight.

Another fundamental problem is aging. Organisms age as biological molecules and structures are degraded through time. Mechanical and electrical systems also “age” as their components become degraded. What is the relationship between aging that occurs in biological systems and aging in mechanical and electrical objects like say, your refrigerator? One approach to this problem might involve dynamical models of damage and repair processes.

In the study of disease dynamics, financial markets, and social interactions, researchers have focused on contact networks. These are networks of interacting entities. In some societies (human and otherwise) contact networks are really spatial networks that individuals must travel in order to make contact with one another. In other societies, the number and rate of interactions in a contact network are modulated by the way information is transmitted. For example, in communication networks in modern societies, people can have “contact” with one another without being physically present in the same place at the same time. It seems likely that there exists a continuum of contact network types, ranging from small slow contact networks, where the number and rate of contacts are limited by the rate at which individuals can come into physical contact with one another, to large fast networks, where contacts are virtual and can occur instantaneously over vast distances. I would be interested in thinking a little more about this continuum and how networks of different types might evolve and be maintained through time.