Mathematical Digest

Short Summaries of Articles about Mathematics
in the Popular Press

"Smart Neurons Offer Neuroscience a Math Lesson," by Barry Cipra.Science, 14 February 1997, page 929.

This article describes how mathematicians are working with neurobiologists totry to understand how collections of neurons synchronize and how that synchronyproduces observed behavior. Collections of neurons fire in certain patterns toproduce particular outputs, from neural oscillations during sleep to therepetitive grinding motion in a lobster's stomach. In many cases a lot isknown about the functioning of the individual cells in a neural network, butlittle about how the cells interact. Mathematical models, using coupledsystems of differential equations, are now becoming sufficiently sophisticatedthat one can actually use the models to make predictions, which can be checkedexperimentally. The article describes work of mathematician Nancy Kopell inthis area.