Seeing the Natural World Through a Mathematical Lens

Seeing the Natural World Through a Mathematical Lens | Article | Abakcus
Photo by Steven Wright on Unsplash

David Darrow, who grew up in Wallingford, Connecticut, enjoyed spending time outside with his Boy Scout troop, hiking and camping in the great outdoors. He was enthralled by nature around him, and he was continually inquiring about the world’s natural environment.

Darrow is a senior at MIT, majoring in mathematics with minors in German and physics. He is still researching natural phenomena. With fluid dynamics and climate modeling as his core fields of study, he enjoys using mathematics to learn about and understand the world around him more fully.

“I consider mathematics to be the language in which the cosmos communicates. “It’s a really cool way to get a better understanding of how nature works,” he says.

In the fall of his senior year of high school, Darrow began participating in the MIT PRIMES research program for high school students, which provided him with his first introduction to mathematical study at MIT. Under the supervision of two mentors, he sought to develop a new algorithm that would replicate fluid movement in a cylinder more accurately and effectively than the previous one. Even though the project was ultimately failed mathematically, it served to pique his interest in the topic, despite its failure.

After starting at MIT in his first year, Darrow worked on several research projects ranging from minimal surface theory to convex geometry, among other topics. Some were effective, while others were not so much. Darrow describes his failures as some of his most difficult tasks — as well as sources of inspiration for fresh study ideas.

One of the most challenging aspects of math research is that it might sometimes fail with nothing that can be done to remedy the situation. Nevertheless, if these things didn’t go wrong in the first place, it wouldn’t be worthwhile to investigate them in the first place,” he says.

During the spring semester of his junior year, Darrow collaborated with postdoc Daniel Alvarez-Gavela on a research project examining the symplectic topology of homotopy spheres. Previously, Darrow’s research experiences had been more solo in nature, and this was his first endeavor in which he worked side by side with another individual.

Darrow is now working with Ph.D. candidate George Stepaniants on a project involving protein folding. They are utilizing statistical geometry to investigate and evaluate the differences between the folds of these enormous, complex molecules. He intends to determine whether or not specific proteins are related and have a common evolutionary history by examining the data that has been collected.

Ali Kaya


Ali Kaya

This is Ali. Bespectacled and mustachioed father, math blogger, and soccer player. I also do consult for global math and science startups.