Feature Stories

Nick Kintos - Mathematics and Computational Biology

Nick Kintos in his lab

Nick Kintos uses the language of math to describe the science of biology.

Kintos, a graduate student of math, writes equations that help biologists interpret their research. His field is known as computational biology.

“The field is fun,” says Kintos, “because it combines two subjects -- math and bio -- and I collaborate on important research experiments with biologists.” 

Kintos is helping a team of NJIT biologists and mathematicians, led by Professor Farzan Nadim, study the digestive nervous system of crabs.

Why crabs?

If biologists understand the digestive nervous system of crabs, says Kintos, they’ll better understand the nervous system of humans. “And that,” he adds, “will help biologists develop cures for patients with spinal cord injuries.”

Crabs are far less sophisticated than humans, he concedes, and crabs don’t have spinal cords. But crabs, unlike humans, have a manageable amount of neurons; that makes them easier to record and study.

And this is where his computational biology skills come into play. Using a computer, he designs math models – sets of equations – that describe the biology of the crab’s neurons.

“You can describe the neurons well with equations,” he says. “My work explains what the biologists are seeing. My equations and models help them determine what drives the neural network activity in crabs.”

Kintos’s specialty -- computational biology -- is an important skill that will make him especially marketable.

Next year, after he completes his doctoral degree, he’ll apply for jobs as a research professor. And given his specialty, he can work as a professor in either math or biology.

He’s grateful to NJIT for allowing him to develop such a useful and marketable skill.

“NJIT is small close-knit university and the professors encouraged me to do cross-over research in math and bio,” says Kintos. “Conducting research is always exciting since you could be the first to discover something new. And working in two fields –- math and bio -- will offer me double the excitement.”