Christine Heitsch is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She graduated with a Ph.D. in Mathematics from UC Berkeley after enjoying four years in the Champaign-Urbana cornfields as a UIUC undergraduate. In retrospect, it seems significant that she was a biology major for her first two years of college, but finished with a bachelor's degree in mathematics. Her research synthesizes these interdisciplinary interests by focusing on questions at the emerging interface between discrete mathematics and molecular biology. Her work addresses patterns in strings, structural characteristics of trees, and the combinatorics of RNA folding.
Professor Heitsch will lecture on "Strings, Trees, and RNA Folding." Understanding the folding of RNA sequences into molecular structures is one of the fundamental challenges in molecular biology. In this talk, we focus on understanding how an RNA viral genome can fold into the dodecahedral cage known from crystallographic studies. Using strings and trees as a combinatorial model of RNA folding, we give mathematical results which yield insight into RNA structure formation and suggest new directions in viral capsid assembly. We also illustrate how the interaction between discrete mathematics and molecular biology motivates new combinatorial theorems as well as advancing biomedical applications.