Research is something that is talked about a lot in the world but rarely do people get a chance to do it. I briefly talk about the research I did in bone biology as well as the experience. I also discuss the challenges I faced and how its changed how I view the world.

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Research is a term we hear a lot. We hear our local news discuss breakthrough advancements in disease treatment. Maybe we read a book about how researchers are seeing our climate warming, but they have recommendations to fix it. We also see the significantly less noble commenter on Facebook proclaiming one must ‘do your own research’ after spouting an alarmist conspiracy theory.

Research can mean a lot of things to a lot of people, and I think that makes it hard to understand. This summer I got the chance to understand a little bit about what research means to me, the processes that it entails, and why I think it’s important.

Over the summer, I used mathematics to model the way bone adapts to the mechanical stress applied to it. This kind of mathematics research falls under the branch of applied mathematics.  To begin ‘researching’, it required a lot of reading. I read about the various theories that explain the bone biology and how those theories are utilised in maths. I read about a range way bone shape changes when stress is applied and how maths predicts that. Even reading about the experimental data with proposed models.

All of this formed the basis of the knowledge I had to draw upon when creating my own model and informed the changes I made to it when faced with a limitation.

After reading, my supervisors and I worked together to reproduce work that my one of my supervisors had done previously. This was how bone changed over time. This step was key in understanding how the model worked and the parts required to build it.

Next, I did something new. I applied the same model to space rather than time.

However, there was an issue. If the cells worked on the bone surface, then then in the biology this bone should not just be changing density but also shape. This wasn’t allowed for in our model. So, we had to find a solution to that. That included completely changing the way that the model was written.

And of course, once that was implemented, we found further limitations.

I believe that research is important to me because, just like the bone I have been studying, it is constantly adapting and renewing itself. When faced with a challenge you’ve got to rejig your thinking until either the model better represents the biology or the method you’re using allows for better insight. I appreciate the beauty in that. That research will only stop if people stop being curious about how the world around us works.

I find applied maths particularly beautiful because maths is something that humans made up. With rules we’ve decided over centuries and sometimes still argue about. Somehow, we can understand these complex systems with the variables we made up for them, with the processes we assign to them, given the rules believe they abide by. This process fundamentally changes the world.

Rebecca Milne
Queensland University of Technology

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