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Using math to tackle meningitis

For Justice Martinez, '18, math has been a beloved subject since childhood. Martinez decided to triple major in mathematics, computer science and mathematical economics at Whitworth, hoping to use his passion for the subjects to help others. This past summer, Martinez learned more about how mathematics can affect people when he participated in a highly selective research program in which he studied meningitis.

Martinez was part of the Math-Bio Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Hoping to gain valuable experience for graduate school, he had applied to about 40 different programs.

"REU programs are extremely competitive, most having about a 5-7 percent acceptance rate for five to 10 spots," Martinez says. "I was anxiously waiting, so I was relieved when I finally received an email saying I was accepted."

Justice stands outside a building on campus. He poses with his hands in his pockets and smiles.

Martinez and his team researched a few types of meningitis, exploring ways to model how the disease is transferred from person to person.

"Once we had that information, we created a viable model of the disease, using a program called MATLAB to code our model and collect results," Martinez says. "In my team, I had the most experience working with MATLAB so I created the code for our model."

Martinez and his team also participated in mock conferences with other REU programs in the area.

"These conferences really helped me see just how broad the applied mathematics field is," Martinez says. "My program was all about mathematical biology, whereas some of the other programs had projects for the U.S. Department of Defense and financial analyses of when to buy and sell stock. Math is a powerful tool that can be used to help explain anything."

Martinez and his team are working on submitting a paper on their research for review and potential publication.

On campus, Martinez is part of the newly formed Math Club and tutors in the math lab, where students from any math class can seek assistance. After graduating from Whitworth, he plans to pursue a Ph.D. in mathematics.

"Being a part of an REU program really solidified that I want to go to graduate school," Martinez says. "I want to continue studying to see how I can use math to potentially affect a lot of people."